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By tht same AuthoY 

Approaching poetry by way of the other arts, with one or more of 
which the reader may be more familiar, this book aims to arouse 
parallel interests in music, painting, architecture, and sculpture. 
Short anthologies of quotations at the end of each chapter have been 
specially chosen to stimulate thought and criticism. 

"He steers the argument in such a way that it may be the greatest 
use to the large public which now wants to enjoy, and to form sensible 
opinions about, architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and literature. 
He has enlightening things to say on points of psychology and craft 
as well as aesthetic theory. ... It would have been hard to do it 
better. "Time & Tide. 

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THOUSANDS and thousands of books have been written about 
Shakespeare, and most of thernare mad', wrote Logan Pearsall 
Smith. But whatever the faults of the present work I do not 
think that it can fairly be charged with a lack of sanity. I have no 
particular axe to grind, unless a defence of the few articles in a simple 
and orthodox creed can be interpreted as such. I believe that Shake- 
speare was the author of the works attributed to him by his friends 
Heminge and Condell, and that with the exception of relatively few 
passages and scenes he wrote everything in the thirty-six plays of the 
First Folio; and I believe that Shakespeare is the greatest poet and 
dramatist who has ever written, certainly in English, probably in any 

A creed, however, will not justify a book, least of all will it justify 
another book on Shakespeare. The justification of this work lies not 
so much in the originality of the matter itself though even here, 
perhaps, some originality may be allowed as in its arrangement, in 
the assembly of material that, so far as I know, has never before been 
brought together in one volume. There are books devoted to Shake- 
bpearean scholarship and to aesthetic appreciation, there are numerous 
nthologies of Shakespeare's poetry, and some of Shakespearean 
criticism, but none that draws all these elements together within a 
comparatively small compass. Nor, I think, is there any other book 
that illuminates as it were in the round each play and poem by the 
criticism that falls on it from the various angles of three centuries. 
For, in the words of Mr T. S. Eliot, 'when a poet is a great poet as 
Shakespeare is, we cannot judge of his greatness unaided; we need both 
tl opinions of other poets, and the diverse views of critics who were 
not poets, in order to help us to understand 1 . 

F. E. H, 


I am grateful to the following authors and publishers for their 
permission to quote extracts from copyright work: Sir Edmund 
Chambers and the Clarendon Press (Wuliam Shakespeare: A Study of 
Facts and Problems); the Clarendon Press (The Approach to Shake- 
speare^ by Professor J. W. Mackail); The Oxford University Press 
(Tolstoy's Shakespeare and the Drama, translated by Aylmer Maude; 
Landmarks in French Literature, by Lytton Strachey, in the Home 
University Library); Mr John Masefield and the Oxford University 
Press (William Shakespeare, in the Home University Library); Pro- 
fessor Dover Wilson and the Cambridge University Press (Intro- 
duction to Much Ado About Nothing, in the New Cambridge Shake- 
speare); Professor E. E. Stoll and the Cambridge University Press (Art 
and Artifice in Shakespeare); Dr Caroline Spurgeon and the Cam- 
bridge University Press (Shakespeare' } s Imagery); Messrs Ernest Benn 
Ltd. (Shakespeare's Workmanship, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch); 
Messrs Constable and Co. Ltd. (On Reading Shakespeare, by Logan 
Pearsall Smith); Messrs G. G. Harrap and Co. Ltd. (The Contem- 
porary Theatre, by James Agate); Messrs Macmillan and Co. Ltd. 
(Shakespearean Tragedy, by A. C. Bradley; Shakespeare, by Sir Walter 
Raleigh); Mr T. S. Eliot and Messrs Faber and Faber Ltd. (Selected 
Essays); Messrs William Heinemann Ltd. (A Study of Shakespeare, 
by A. C. Swinburne; William Shakespeare, by G. Brandes, translated 
by William Archer); Messrs George Allen and Unwin Ltd. (Ariosto, 
Shakespeare, and Corneille, by B. Croce, translated by D. Ainslie); 
Mr Middleton Murry and Messrs Wm Collins, Sons and Co. Ltd. 
(Countries of the Mind); Sir Edmund Chambers and Messrs Sidgwick 
and Jackson Ltd. (Shakespeare: A Survey); Messrs Sidgwick and 
Jackson Ltd. (Prefaces to Shakespeare, by H. Granville- Barker); 
Messrs Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. (Shakspere: His Mind and 






PRIFACI ............ vii 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS -.-...-- viii 
LIST or ILLUSTRATIONS ---------ri 




/1. VERSE AND POETRY ---------- toi 


/V. CHARACTER ........... 169 

VI. QUARTOS AND FOLIOS - ........ 199 







Henry VI, Part 2 ......... 341 

Henry VI, Part 3- -------- 341 

Henry VI, Part i ......... 342 

Richard III .......... 345 

Titus Andronicus - - - % - - - - - - 348 

The Comedy of Errors ....----351 

The Two Gentlemen of Verona ...... 353 

Love's Labour's Lost ........ 355 

Romeo and Juliet ..--.---- 361 

Richard II .......... 365 

The Taming of the Shrew ....... 371 

A Midsummer Night's Dream ------- 374 

King John .......... 377 

The Merchant of Venice ........ 379 

rffienry IV, Part i ......... 384 

Henry IV, Part 2 ......... 385 

The Merry Wives of Windsor ....... 391 

Henry V---- ....... 396 

Much Ado About Nothing ....... 400 

As You Like It - ..... ? 403 

^Twelfth Night ......... 406 



Jujius Caesar ---------- 410 

v^jKamlet ----------- 413 

Troilus and Cressida -------- 422 

All's Well that Ends Well 429 

-Mr*flurf for Measure 

imon or Athens --------- 441 

; Lear 443 

'Macbeth --- -- 449 

Antony and Cleopatra - - - - - - - -455 

Coriolanus ---------- 458 

Cymbeline ---------- 462 

The Winter's Tale 466 

><JThe Tempest -- 469 

Henry VIII 474 



Pericles --- -- 478 

The London Prodigal ------- 483 

Thomas Lord Cromwell ------- 483 

Sir John Oldcastle 483 

The Puritan Widow 484 

A Yorkshire Tragedy 4 8 4 

Locrine ---------- 484 


The Two Noble Kinsmen 485 

Cardenio ---------- 488 

Sir Thomas More -------- 489 

Edward III - 491 

The Troublesome Reign of King John - - - - 491 

The Birth of Merlin 49* 

Arden of Faversham, etc. ------- 492 




Venus and Adonis --------- 40,7 

The Rape of Lucrece , - - 500 

Ns/The Sonnets ----- 502 

A Lover's Complaint -------- 506 

The Passionate Pilgrim 507 

The Phoenix and Turtle - 508 

SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY - - - - - - - - - -513 

INDEX OF PLAYS - - - - - - - - - - - $*6 

GENERAL INDEX - -.--------518 



THE RYTHER MAP or LONDON, 1604 (?) - - - - - facing page 40 


THE SWAN THEATRE --_.-.-..-- ^ 

Henry VI^ Part 2. PART OF p. 134 OF The Histories IN THE FIRST FOLIO - in 

Hamlet. FIRST PAGE OF Qi, 1603: THE 'BAD' QUARTO - 203 

Love's Labour's Lost. TITLE-PAGE OF FIRST QUARTO - - - - - 356 

Sonnets. TITLE-PAGE OF QUARTO -------- 503 




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THERE are three main sources on which we can draw for our 
knowledge of Shakespeare's life: contemporary allusions, tradi- 
tion, and records of various kinds. Of these, the contemporary 
allusions are mainly, like those of Greene, Meres, and Jonson, of a 
literary nature; tradition is the basis of the early attempts at biography, 
a serious effort to unearth and study records at Stratford and London 
not being made until the late eighteenth century. 

It is of course impossible to say how far these traditions are to be 
trusted; no doubt some of them are essentially true, others sound 
suspiciously fanciful, most of them are picturesque, and as they are 
largely responsible for the popular conception of Shakespeare it will 
be as well to consider their origin and note their accumulation before 
going on to the more prosaic biographical records. 

The first man to make a sketch of Shakespeare's life was Thomas 
Fuller (1608-61), who spent his last fifteen or twenty years collecting 
material for his Worthies of England^ published in 1662: 

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford on Avon in this County, 
in whom three eminent Poets may seem in some sort to be com- 
pounded. . . . l 

Many were the wit-combates betwixt him and Ben Johnson, which 
two I behold like a Spanish great Gal I ion and an English man of War\ 
Master Johnson (like the former) was built far higher in Learning; 
Solid \ but Slow in his performances. Shake-spear, with the English-man 
of War, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, 
tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his Wit 
and Invention. He died Anno Domini 16 . ., and was buried at Stratford 
upon Avon, the Town of his Nativity. 

Shortly before Fuller's death Thomas Plume, Archdeacon of 
Rochester, made the note: 

He was a glovers son Sir John Mennis saw once his old Father 
in his shop a merry Cheekd old man that said Will was a good 
Honest Fellow, but he durst have crackt a jeast with him at any time. 

John Ward was the vicar of Stratford from 1662 to 1681, and in 
that part of his Diary written between 1661 and 1663 he noted: 

1 See p. 177. 


Shakespcar had but 2 daughters, one whereof M. Hall, ye physitian, 
married, and by her had one daughter, to wit, ye Lady Bernard of 
Abbingdon. . . . 

I have heard yt Mr. Shakespeare was a natural wit, without any art 
at all; hee frequented ye plays all his younger time, but in his elder days 
lived at Stratford: and supplied ye stage with 2 plays every year, and for 
yt had an allowance so large, yt hee spent att ye Rate of a i,oool. a year, 
as I have heard. . . . 

Shakespear, Drayton, and Ben Jhonson, had a merry meeting, and itt 
seems drank too hard, for Shakespear died of a feavour there contracted. 

When * the magotieheaded and exceedingly credulous ' John 
Aubrey (1626-97) collected the material for his Brief Lives he relied 
for his account of Shakespeare, at least in part, on William Beeston, an 
old actor and the son of Christopher BeeSton, one of Shakespeare's 
fellow-actors in the Chamberlain's Company. 1 

Mr. William Shakespear was borne at Stratford vpon Avon, in the 
County of Warwick; his father was a Butcher, & I have been told 
heretofore by some of the neighbours, that when he was a boy he 
exercised his father's Trade, but when he kill'd a Calfe, he would 
y doe it in a high style, & make a Speecn. There was at that time another 
Butcher's son in this Towne, that was held not at all inferior to him 
for a naturall witt, his acquaintance & coetanean, but dyed young. 
This Win. being inclined naturally to Poetry and acting, came to 
London 1 guesse about 1 8 and was an Actor at one of the Play-houses 
and did act exceedingly well: now B. Johnson was never a good actor 
but an excellent instructor. He began early to make essayes at Drama- 
tique Poetry, which at that time was very lowe; and his Playes tooke 
well: He was a handsome well shap't man: very good company, and of 
a very ready and pleasant smooth Witt. The Humour of ... the Con- 
stable in a Midsomernight's Dreame, 2 he happened to take at Grendon 
in Bucks which is the roade from London to Stratford, and there 
was living that Constable about 1642 when I first came to Oxon. 
Mr. Jos. Howe is of that parish and knew him. Ben Johnson and he 
did gather Humours of men dayly where ever they came. One time 
as he was at the Tavern at Stratford super Avon, one Combes an 
old rich Usurer was to be buryed, he makes there this extemporary 

1 This Comoedie (Every Man in bis Humour) was first Acted, in the yeere 1598. By the 
then L. Chamberlayne his Servants. The principall Comoedians were: 

Will Shakespeare. Ric. Burbadge. 

Aug. Philips. loh. Hemings. 

Hen. Condel. Tho. Pope. 

Will. Slyc. Chr. Beeston. 

Will. Kexnpe. loh. Duke. 
* Dogberry in Much Ado 


Ten in the Hundred the Devill allowes 

But Comfas will have twelve, he sweares & vowes: 

If any one askes who lies in this Tombe: 

Hoh! quoth the Devill, 'Tis my John o' Combe. 

He was wont to goe to his native Country once a yeare. I thinke I have 
been told that he left 2 or 300" per annum there and thereabout: to a 
sister. I have heard Sr Wm. Davenant and Mr. Thomas Shadwell (who 
is counted the best Comcedian we have now) say, that he had a most 
prodigious Witt, and did admire his naturall parts beyond all other 
Dramaticall writers. He was wont to say, That he never blotted out a 
line in his life: sayd Ben: Johnson, I wish he had blotted out a thou- 
sand. . . . 

the more to be admired q[uia] he was not a company keeper lived 
in Shoreditch, wouldnt be debauched, & if invited to writ; he was in 
paine. . . . 

Though as Ben. Johnson sayes of him, that he had but little Latine 
and lesse Greek, He understood Latine prejty ..well: for hejbad ,been in 
his younger yeares a Schoolmaster in the Countrey. 

Aubrey was the first to record the suggestion that Sir William 
D'Avenant was Shakespeare's illegitimate son. This he did with less 
delicacy than Anthony Wood, for whose Athena Oxonienses he col- 
lected his material, and it was probably Wood who censored the 
passages printed in brackets: 

Sr William Davenant Knight Poet Laureate was borne in street 

in the City of Oxford, at the Crowne Taverne. His father was John 
Davenant a Vintner there, a very grave and discreet Citizen; his mother 
was a very beautifull woman, & of a very good witt and of conversation 
extremely agreable . . . Mr William Shakespeare was wont to goe into 
Warwickshire once a yeare, and did commonly in his journey lye at this 
house in Oxon: where he was exceedingly respected. [I have heard 
parson Robert D say that Mr W. Shakespeare here gave him a hundred 
kisses.] Now Sr. Wm would sometimes when he was pleasant over a 
glasse of wine with his most intimate friends e.g. Sam: Butler author of 
Hudibras &c. say, that it seemed to him that he writt with the very 
spirit that Shakespeare, and was seemed contentended enough to be 
thought his Son: he would tell them the story as above, [in which way 
his mother had a very light report, whereby she was called a whore.] 

A letter from a Mr. Dowdall to his cousin describes his visit to 
Stratford in 1693: 

The clarke that shew'd me this Church is aboue 80 yrs old; he says 
that this Shakespear was formerly in this Towne bound apprentice to a 


butcher; but that he Run from his master to London, and there was 
Reed into the pkyhouse as a serviture, and by this meanes had an opper- 
tunity to be wt he afterwards prov'd. he was the best of his family but 
the male Line is extinguished; not one for feare of the Curse abouesd 
Dare Touch his Grave Stone, tho his wife and Daughters Did Earnestly 
Desire to be Layd in the same Grave with him. 

The first mention of the deer-stealing episode was made by Richard 
Davies in a manuscript written some time between 1688 and 1708. 
Davies became rector of Sapperton, near Cirencester in Gloucester- 
shire, in 1695, and was buried there in 1708. The passages printed 
in brackets are earlier entries by William Fulman, vicar of Maisey- 
Hampton, Gloucestershire, from 1669 to 1688. Fulman's papers 
passed into the possession of Davies. 

(William Shakespeare was born at Stratford upon Avon in Warwick- 
shire about 1563-4.) 

Much given to all unluckinesse in stealing venison and Rabbits par- 
ticularly from Sr Lucy who had him oft whipt & sometimes 
Imprisoned & at last made Him fly his Native Country to his great 
Advancemt. but His reveng was so great that he is his Justice Clodpate 
and calls him a great man & yt in allusion to his name bore three lowses 
rampant for his Arms 

(From^an Actor of Playes, he became a Composer. He dyed Apr. 2 3 . 
1616. Aetat 53, probably at Stratford, for there he is buryed, and hath 
a Monument) on we He lays a Heavy curse vpon any one who shal 
remoove his bones He dyed a papist. 

The first formal Life of Shakespeare was written by Nicholas Rowe 
and prefixed to his edition of the plays in 1709, nearly a hundred years 
after Shakespeare's death. Rowe brings together the accumulated 
traditions of the seventeenth century but adds some new ones, supplied 
by the great actor Betterton, who, according to Rowe, went to 
Stratford 'to gather up what remains he could'. Malone says that this 
was in 1708. Rowe's Life perpetuated and popularised the traditions, 
and the biographical prefaces of later eighteenth-century editors, of 
Pope, Johnson, Steevens, are for the most part reprints of or variations 
on the theme of Rowe. 

He was the Son of Mr. John Shakespear, and was Born at Stratford 
upon Avon, in Warwickshire, in April 1 564. His Family, as appears by 
the Register and Publick Writings relating to that Town, were of good 
Figure and Fashion there, and are mentioned as Gentlemen. His Father, 
who was a considerable Dealer in Wool, had so large a Family, ten 


Children in all, 1 that tho' he was his eldest Son, he could give him no 
better Education than his own Employment. He had bred him, 'tis true, 
for some time at a Free-school, where 'tis probable he acquir'd that 
little Latin he was Master of: But the narrowness of his Circumstances, 
and the want of his assistance at Home, forc'd his Father to withdraw 
him from thence, and unhappily prevented his further Proficiency in 
that Language. . . . 

Upon his leaving School, he seems to have given intirely into that way 
of Living which his Father proposed to him; and in order to settle in the 
World after a Family manner, he thought fit to marry while he was yet 
very Young. His Wife was the Daughter of one Hathaway, said to have 
been a substantial Yeoman in the Neighbourhood of Stratford. In this 
kind of Settlement he continu'd for some time, 'till an Extravagance 
that he was guilty of, forc'd him both out of his Country and that way 
of Living which he had taken up; and tho' it seem'd at first to be a 
Blemish upon his good Manners, and a Misfortune to him, yet it after- 
wards happily prov'd the occasion of exerting one of the greatest Genius's 
that ever was known in Dramatick Poetry. He had, by a Misfortune 
common enough to young Fellows, fallen into ill Company; and amongst 
them, some that made a frequent practice of Deer-stealing, engag'd him 
with them more than once in robbing a Park that belong'd to Sir Thomas 
Lucy of Cherlecot, near Stratford. For this he was prosecuted by that 
Gentleman, as he thought, somewhat too severely; and in order to 
revenge that ill Usage, he made a Ballad upon him. And tho' this, 
probably the first Essay of his Poetry, be lost, yet it is said to have been 
so very bitter, that it redoubled the Prosecution against him to that 
degree, that he was oblig'd to leave his Business and Family in Warwick- 
shire , for some time, and shelter himself in London. 

It is at this Time, and upon this Accident, that he is said to have 
made his first Acquaintance with the Play-house. He was receiv'd into 
the Company then in being, at first in a very mean Rank; but his ad- 
mirable Wit, and the natural Turn of it to the Stage, soon distinguish'd 
him, if not as an extraordinary Actor, yet as an excellent Writer. His 
Name is Printed, as the Custom was in those Times, amongst those of 
the other Players, before some old Plays, but without any particular 
Account of what sort of Parts he used to play; and tho' I have inquir'd, 
I could never meet with any further Account of him this way, than that 
the top of his Performance was the Ghost in his own Hamlet. . . . 

Besides the advantages of his Wit, he was in himself a good-natur'd 
Man, of great sweetness in his Manners, and a most agreeable Com- 
panion; so that it is no wonder if with so many good Qualities he made 
himself acquainted with the best Conversations of those Times. Queen 

1 Betterton made a mistake here in his researches into the Stratford Parish Register. 
Shakespeare's father had eight children, two of whom were called Joan. Betterton may have 
counted only one Joan, but added the three children of another John Shakespeare in the 


Elizabeth had several of his Pkys Acted before her, and without doubt 
gave him many gracious Marks of her Favour: . . . She was so well 
pleas'd with that admirable Character of Fa/staff, in the two Parts of 
Henry the Fourth, that she commanded him to continue it for one Play 
more, and to shew him JrTXove. This is said to be the Occasion ofhis 

Writing The Merry Wives of Windsor 

"What Grace soever the Queen confer'd upon him, it was not to her 
only he ow'd the Fortune which the Reputation of his Wit made. He 
had the Honour to meet with many great and uncommon Marks of 
Favour and Friendship from the Earl of Southampton, famous in the 
Histories of that Time for his Friendship to the unfortunate Earl of 
Essex. It was to that Noble Lord that he Dedicated his Venus and 
Adonis, the only Piece of his Poetry which he ever publish'd himself, 
tho' many of his Plays were surrepticiously and lamely Printed in his 
Life-time. There is one instance so singular in the Magnificence of this 
Patron of Shakespeafs, that if I had not been assur'd that the story was 
handed down by Sir William D'Avenant, who was probably very well 
acquainted with his Affairs, I should not have ventur'd to have inserted, 
that my Lord Southampton, at one time, gave him a thousand Pounds, 
to enable him to go through with a Purchase which he heard he had a 
mind to. A Bounty very great, and very rare at any time, and almost 
equal to that profuse Generosity the present Age has shewn to French 
Dancers and Italian Eunuchs. 

What particular Habitude or Friendships he contracted with private 
Men, I have not been able to learn, more than that every one who had 
a true Taste of Merit, and could distinguish Men, had generally a just 
Value and Esteem for him. His exceeding Candour and good Nature 
must certainly have inclined all the gentler Part of the World to love 
him, as the power of his Wit oblig'd the Men of the most delicate Know- 
ledge and polite Learning to admire him. . . . His Acquaintance with 
Ben Johnson began with a remarkable piece of Humanity and good 
Nature; Mr Johnson, who was at that Time altogether unknown to the 
World, had offer'd one of his Plays to the Pkyers, in order to have it 
Acted; and the Persons into whose hands it was put, after having turn'd 
it carelessly and superciliously over, were just upon returning it to him 
with an ill-natur'd Answer, that it would be of no service to their Com- 
pany, when Shakespear luckily cast his Eye upon it, and found something 
so well in it as to recommend Mr Johnson and his Writings to the 
Publick. After this they were profess'd Friends; tho' I don't know 
whether the other ever made him an equal return of Gentleness and 
Sincerity. . . . 

Falstaffi* allow'd by every body to be a Master-piece: the Character 
is always well-sustain'd, tho' drawn out into the length of three Pkys; 
. . . Amongst other Extravagances, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, he 
has made him a Dear-stealer, that he might at the same time remember 
his Warwickshire Prosecutor, under the Name of Justice Shallow; he 
has given him verv near the same Coat of Arms which Dupda/e. in his 


Antiquities of that County, describes for a Family there, and makes the 
Welsh Parson descant very pleasantly upon 'em. . . . 

I cannot leave Hamlet, without taking notice of the Advantage with 
which we have seen this Master-piece of Shakespear distinguish it self 
upon the Stage, by Mr. Betterton*s fine Performance of that Part. . . . 
I must own a particular Obligation to him, for the most considerable 
part of the Passages relating to his Life, which I have here transmitted 
to the Publick; his Veneration for the Memory of Shake spear having 
engaged him to make a Journey into Warwickshire, on purpose to gather 
up what Remains he could of a Name for which he had so great a 
Value. . . . 

The latter Part of his Life was spent, as all Men of good Sense will 
wish theirs may be, in Ease, Retirement, and the Conversation of his 
Friends. He had the good Fortune to gather an Estate equal to his 
Occasion, and, in that, to his Wish; and is said to have spent some Years 
before his Death at his native Stratford. His pleasurable Wit, and good 
Nature, engag'd him in the Acquaintance, and entitled him to the 
Friendship of the Gentlemen of the Neighbourhood. Amongst them it 
is a Story almost still remember'd in that Country, that he had a par- 
ticular Intimacy with Mr Combe, an old Gentleman noted thereabouts 
for his Wealth and Usury. . . . 

He Dy'd in the 5 3d Year of his Age, and was bury'd on the North 
side of the Chancel, in the Great Church at Stratford, where a Monu- 
ment, as engrav'd in the Plate, is plac'd in the Wall. . . . 

He had three Daughters, 1 of which two liv'd to be marry'd; Judith, 
the Elder, to one Mr Thomas Quiney, by whom she had three Sons, who 
all dy'd without Children; and Susannah, who was his Favourite, to 
Dr John Hall, a Physician of good Reputation in that Country. She left 
one Child only, a Daughter, who was marry'd first to Thomas Nash, 
Esq; and afterwards to Sir John Bernard of Abington, but dy'd likewise 
without Issue. 

This is what I could learn of any Note, either relating to himself or 
Family: the Character of the man is best seen in his Writings. 

Rowe's Life firmly established the Shakespearean traditions and 
encouraged the further accretions of the eighteenth century, which 
became more and more remotely legendary until they merge into 
patent forgeries like those of Charles Macklin, William Henry Ire- 
land, and John Payne Collier. For instance, an anonymous writer in 
1728 tells us how Shakespeare's 

being imperfect in some Things, was owing to his not being a Schokr, 
which obliged him to have one of those chuckle-pated Historians for his 
particular Associate, that could scarce speak a Word but upon that 

1 Another error. Shakespeare had three cbildrtn, but one was a son, Hamnet, who died in 


Subject; and "he maintained him, or he might have starv'd upon his 

And in the following year *A Strolling Player', possibly John Roberts, 

that Two large Chests full of this Great Man's loose Papers and Manu- 
scripts, in the hands of an ignorant Baker of Warwick, (who married 
one of the Descendants from Skakespear) were carelessly scatter'd and 
thrown about, as Garret Lumber and Litter, to the particular Know- 
ledge of the late Sir William Bishop, till they were all consum'd in the 
generall Fire and Destruction of that Town. 

By 1740 Shakespeare's epitaph on John o' Combe had acquired a 
twin, another on Tom o' Combe, John's brother; and as was to be 
expected, the 'bitter ballad', or at least one stanza of it, against Sir 
Thomas Lucy, which Rowe reported as lost, turned up about the 
middle of the century, preserved in the memory of 'a very aged 

A parliemente member, a justice of peace, 
At home a poor scare-crowe, at London an assc, 
If lowsie is Lucy, as some volke miscalle it, 
Then Lucy is lowsie whatever befall it: 

He thinks himselfe greate, 

Yet an asse in his state, 
We allowe by his ears but with asses to mate. 

If Lucy is lowsie, as some volke miscalle it, 

Sing lowsie Lucy, whatever befall it. 1 

These verses are quoted by George Steevens in his edition of Shake- 
speare, 1778. His authority was William Oldys, an antiquarian ( 1 696- 
1761), who wrote a Life of Shakespeare, now lost. 'Mr Oldys\ 
Steevens writes, 'had covered several quires of paper with laborious 
collections for a regular life of our author. . . . The following par- 
ticulars, which I shall give in the words of Oldys, are, for ought we 
know to the contrary, as well authenticated as any of the anecdotes 
delivered down to us by Rowe.' And possibly to establish the authority 
of Oldys at the expense of Rowe he relates how 'in the manuscript 
papers of the late Mr Oldys it is said, that one Bowman, "an actor 
more than half an age on the London theatres", was unwilling to 
allow that his associate and contemporary Betterton had ever under- 
taken such a journey' (*.*., to Stratford). 

1 Before the end of the century the complete ballad was discovered 'in a cheit of drawers, 
that formerly belonged to Mrs. Dorothy Tyler, of Shottery, near Stratford'. 


The story of D'Avenant's being the illegitimate son of Shakespeare 
was a favourite one in the eighteenth century, and Oldys embroiders 
the original version: 

If tradition may be trusted, Shakespeare often baited at the Crown 
Inn or Tavern in Oxford, in his journey to and from London. The land- 
lady was a woman of great beauty and sprightly wit, and her husband, 
Mr John Davenant (afterwards mayor of that city,) a grave melancholy 
man, who as well as his wife used much to delight in Shakespeare's 
pleasant company. Their son young Will Davenant (afterwards Sir 
William) was then a little school-boy in the town, of about seven or 
eight years old, and so fond also of Shakespeare, that whenever he heard 
of his arrival, he would fly from school to see him. One day an old 
townsman observing the boy running homeward almost out of breath, 
asked him whither he was posting in that heat and hurry. He answered, 
to see his god-father Shakespeare. There's a good boy, said the other, 
but have a care that you don't take God's name in vain. 

Oldys is also responsible for the tradition that Shakespeare acted the 
part of Adam in As You Like It. He relates how one of the younger 
brothers of Shakespeare used to go to London to see him act, and how 
in his old age 

all that could be recollected from him of his brother Will, in that 
station was, the faint, general, and almost lost ideas he had of having 
once seen him act a part in one of his own comedies, wherein being to 
personate a decrepit old man, he wore a long beard, and appeared so 
weak and drooping and unable to walk, that he was forced to be sup- 
ported and carried by another person to a table, at which he was seated 
among some company, who were eating, and one of them sung a song. 

An anonymous letter in the British Magazine for 1762 gives the 
first version of the crab-tree story: 

My cheerful landlord . . . took me to the house where the poet was 
born and there I saw a mulberry- tree of that great man's planting, a 
piece of which I brought away with me, to make tobacco-stoppers for 
our vicar. . . . From thence my landlord was so complaisant as to go 
with me to visit two young women, lineal descendants of our great 
dramatic poet: they keep a little ale-house, some small distance from 
Stratford. On the road thither, at a place called Bidford, he shewed me 
in the hedge, a crab-tree, called Shakespeare's canopy, because under it 
our poet slept one night; for he, as well as Ben Johnson, loved a glass 
for the pleasure of society; and he, having heard much of the men of 
that village as deep drinkers and merry fellows, one day went over to 
Bidford, to take a cup with them. He enquired of a shepherd for the 
Bidford drinkers; who replied they were absent; but the Bidford sippers 


were at home; and, I suppose, continued the sheepkeeper, they will be 
sufficient for you: and so, indeed, they were. He was forced to take up 
his lodging under that tree for some hours. 

This story was picturesquely elaborated by John Jordan, who was 
responsible for the discovery of the bitter ballad in the chest of drawers, 
and who ingenuously introduces the anecdote as being 'as well 
authenticated as things of this nature generally are'. 

Johnson in his edition of Shakespeare, 1765, had only one passage 
to add to the Life of Rowe which he reprinted: 

In the time of Elizabeth^ coaches being yet uncommon, and hired 
coaches not at all in use, those who were too proud, too tender, or too 
idle to walk, went on horseback to any distant business or diversion. 
Many came on horse-back to the play, and when Shakespear fled to 
London from the terror of a criminal prosecution, his first expedient was 
to wait at the door of the play-house, and hold the horses of those that 
had no servants, that they might be ready again after the performance. 
In this office he became so conspicuous for his care and readiness, that in 
a short time every man as he alighted called for Will. Shakespear, and 
scarcely any other waiter was trusted with a horse while Will. Shake- 
spear could be had. This was the first dawn of better fortune. Shake- 
spear finding more horses put into his hand than he could hold, hired 
boys to wait under his inspection, who when Will. Shakespear was 
summoned, were immediately to present themselves, / am Shakespear^ s 
boy. Sir. In time Shakespear found higher employment, but as long as 
the practice of riding to the play-house continued, the waiters that held 
the horses retained the appellation of Shakespear } s Boys. 

According to Johnson the anecdote was communicated to Pope by 
Rowe, but it is the same as that related by Robert Shiels, who was for 
a time Johnson's amanuensis, and Shiels prefaces his version by saying 
that it is 'a story which Sir William Davenant told Mr Betterton, 
who communicated it to Mr Rowe; Rowe told it Mr Pope, and Mr 
Pope told it to Dr Newton, the late editor of Milton, and from a 
gentleman, who heard it from him, 'tis here related'. 

Enough has been said to indicate the evolution of the Shakespeare 
myth which, up till the time of Rowe, no doubt , contained a fair 
element of truth, but which became more and more fanciful as 
Shakespeare's popularity waxed and the eighteenth century waned, 
A more sceptical and critical attitude was taken by Edmund Malone 
(1741-1812), with whom the scientific study of records may be said 
to have begun, and by his successors, notably the indefatigable 
Halliwell-Phillipps, whose Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare in its 


final form ran to nearly a thousand pages. It is to these records, 
bibliographical, theatrical, and official, as well as to the traditions and 
literary references that we must turn for a reconstruction of Shake- 
speare's life. Yet up till 1592, when Shakespeare was twenty-eight, 
the only records of his existence are those of his baptism, his licence 
to be married, and the baptism of his three children. 


William Shakespeare's grandfather was probably Richard Shake- 
speare, a farmer of Snitterfield, a village four miles to the north of 
Stratford. He had two sons, one of whom, Henry, died in debt in 
1596, the other, John, the poet's father, settling in Stratford about 

1551 as a glover and dealer in agricultural produce. There he 
prospered and took a considerable part in the affairs of the town. In 

1552 he was living in Henley St., for in that year he was fined a 
shilling for having a dunghill in front of his house. In 1556 he bought 
two houses, one adjoining the 'Birthplace' in Henley St., the other in 
Greenhill St., and in 1575 he bought two more houses in Stratford, 
but whereabouts we do not know; in 1590, however, he owned two 
contiguous houses in Henley St. About 1557 ^ e was elected a town 
councillor, and in 1561 one of the two chamberlains of the borough; 
in 1565 he was an alderman, in 1568 he held the important position 
of bailiff, in which capacity he welcomed the first companies of actors 
ever to visit Stratford, and in 1571 he was chief alderman. 

Meanwhile, about 1 557, he had married Mary Arden, the youngest 
daughter of Robert Arden, a small landowner of Wilmcote near 
Stratford, who when he died left Mary among other things some land 
called Asbies, his chief property at Wilmcote. John Shakespeare and 
Mary Arden had eight children, whose christenings are recorded in 
the Register of Stratford parish church: 1 

1558, Sept. 15. C. Jone Shakspere daughter to John Shakspere. 

1562, Dec. 2. C. Margareta filia Johannis Shakspere. 

1 563, Apr. 30. B. Margareta filia Johannis Shakspere. 

1564, Apr. 26. C. Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere. 
1566, Oct. 13. C. Gilbertus films Johannis Shakspere. 
1569, Apr. I5.C. Jone the daughter of John Shakspere. 
1571, Sept. 28. C. Anna filia magistri Shakspere. 

1574, Mar. II. C. Richard sonne to Mr John Shakspeer. 

1 579, Apr. 4. B. Anne daughter to Mr John Shakspere. 

1580, May 3. C. Edmund sonne to Mr John Shakspere. 

1 The Register begins in 1558, but the early records are transcribed until September 
1600, probably by the vicar at that time, Richard Byfield. 


It is assumed that the first Joan died in infancy before the christening 
of the second Joan. 

William, the first son and third child, was christened on April 26th, 
but there is no evidence to show that he was born on April 23rd, the 
[traditional birthday, William Oldys in a marginal note of about 1750 
apparently being the first to specify this date: 'The son of Mr John 
Shakespeare Wool Stapler was the eldest of Ten Children born 23 of 
April 1563.'* If we assume that the inscription on his monument is 
correct: that he died on the 23rd of April 1616 in his 53rd year 
obiit anno atatis 53 we can only say that he was born some time 
between April 24th, 1563, and April 23rd, 1564, otherwise he would 
have died either in his 54th or in his 52nd year. 

Nor do we know that he was born in the 'Birthplace', the western 
house of the two in Henley St. His father had bought the eastern 
one and a house in Greenhill St. in 1556, and William might have 
been born in either of these, although it is possible that his father was 
living as a tenant in the western house, which was almost certainly 
one of the two houses that he bought in 1575. It was first identified 
as the birthplace in 1759, and at the Jubilee of 1769 a 'Birthroom' 
was supplied for the benefit of pilgrims. The western house in Henley 
St. was chosen, no doubt, because it had then been occupied for more 
than a hundred years by the Harts, descendants of the poet's sister 
Joan, while for a hundred years the eastern half had been an inn. 

William Shakespeare was, then, the son of a prosperous business 
man, and of the daughter of a wealthy farmer who was probably 
connected with some of the well-known county families. But of his 
childhood and boyhood we know nothing, though it seems reasonable 
to suppose that he went to the town grammar school, a good one, 
which for the sons of burgesses was free, and provided a liberal educa- 
tion mainly in the Latin language and literature for boys up to the age 
of sixteen. He might have stayed there until 1580, though Rowe 
affirms that 'the narrowness of his circumstance, and the want of his 
assistance at home, forced his father to withdraw him from school'. 

Certainly when William was thirteen or fourteen his father appears 
to have got into difficulties, for in 1578 he sold his wife's interest in 
her father's Snitterfield estate for 4, let Asbies, and mortgaged her 
other property at Wilmcote to her brother-in-law, Edmund Lambert, 
for 40. Then followed a number of law-suits, a fine of 40, and 
further embarrassment when he became involved in his brother 
Henry's affairs. In 1577 ^ e ceased to attend the meetings of the 

1 Oldys does not inspire confidence. John Shakespeare was not primarily a wool stapler, 
and he had eight children, not ten. William was not the eldest child, and even if he was born 
on April 23rd, it certainly was not in 1 563. 


Corporation who, ten years later, appointed another alderman in his 
place 'for that Mr Shaxspere dothe not come to the halles when they 
be warned nor hathe not done of longe tyme'. In September 1592 he 
was prosecuted 'for not comminge monethlie to churche accordinge 
to hir Majesties lawes', not because he was a recusant but, according 
to the note of the commissioners, because of 'feare of process for 

After his baptism the next certain fact in Shakespeare's life is the 
record of his proposed marriage. There is no record of its solemnisa- 
tion, but in the Bishop of Worcester's Register is the Entry of Licence, 
dated 27 Nov. 1582: 'Item eodem die similis emanavit licencia inter 
Willelmum Shaxpere et Annam Whateley de Temple Grafton.' 
This was a special licence to expedite the marriage, which might then 
be celebrated with only once asking of the banns, and the next day 
Fulk Sandells and John Richardson, farmers of Stratford, entered into 
a bond to exempt the bishop from all liability should any impediment 
later come to light imperilling the validity of the proposed marriage: 

The condicion of this obligacion ys suche that if herafter there shall 
not appere any Lawfull Lett or impediment by reason of any pre- 
contract consanguinitie affinitie or by any other Jawfull meanes what- 
soeuer but that William Shagspere on thone par tie, and Anne Hathwey 
of Stratford in the Dioces of Worcester maiden may lawfully solennize 
matrimony together and in the same afterwards remaine and continew 
like man and wiffe according vnto the lawes in that behalf prouided, . . . 
And moreouer if the said William Shagspere do not proceed to sol- 
lenizacion of marriadg with the said Anne Hathwey without the consent 
of hir frindes, And also if the said William do vpon his owne proper 
costes and expenses defend & save harmles the right Reverend father 
in god Lord John bushop of Worcester and his offycers for Licencing 
them the said William and Anne to be maried togither with once 
asking of the bannes of matrimony betwene them and for all other 
causes which may ensue by reason or occasion thereof, That then the 
said obligacion to be voyd and of none effect or els to stand & abide in 
full force and vcrtue. 

There is nothing irregular in this proceeding, though it suggests 
haste, probably because Anne was already pregnant. But the dis- 
crepancy between the name of Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton 
in the licence and of Anne Hathwey of Stratford in the bond is odd. 
The bond, a legal document, is almost certainly correct, and the clerk 
who made up the record of licences in the Register must have made 
a mistake in his entry. Presumably the marriage took place soon after 
the granting of the licence. 


There were several Hathaways in the parish of Stratford, and there 
is some uncertainty as to Anne's parentage, but it seems probable that 
she was the eldest daughter of Richard Hathaway of Shottery, who 
occupied the house now known as Anne Hathaway's cottage. 1 
According to the inscription on her tombstone Anne was eight years 
older than her husband, who was only eighteen when he married her. 

Shakespeare was married towards the end of 1582; his first child, 
a daughter Susanna, was christened in Stratford parish church on 
May 26th, 1583, the twins Hamnet and Judith on February 2nd, 

1583, May 26. C. Susanna daughter to William Shakespeare. 
1585, Feb. 2. C. Hamnet and Judeth sonne and daughter to William 

Then, from 1585 when he was twenty-cne to 1592 when he was 
twenty-eight, there are no records of his doings or of his whereabouts, 
and we are driven back to the traditions. Rowe tells us that, owing to 
the deer-stealing episode, 'he was oblig'd to leave his Business and 
Family in Warwickshire, for some time, and shelter himself in 
London'; Aubrey that he 'came to London I guesse about 18'. If 
Shakespeare went to London when he was eighteen it must have 
been very soon after his marriage, and it seems more reasonable to 
assume that he left Stratford at the earliest not much before the time 
of the birth of the twins at the beginning of 1585. As far as we know 
Anne and the children stayed in Stratford, for there is no record of 
her in London, though it is true that neither is there any further 
record of her in Stratford before 1601, We do not know that Shake- 
speare went straight from Stratford to London. Aubrey says that 'he 
had been in his younger years a schoolmaster in the country', but he 
meant before he went to London at eighteen. There is also a tradition 
that he lived for a time at Dursley in the south Cotswolds. 'I beseech 
you, sir, to countenance William Visor of Woncot against Clement 
Perkes o' the hill', says Davy to Justice Shallow. The village of 
Woodmancote, or Woncot as it is pronounced locally, adjoins Dursley, 
and both lie under Stinchcombe Hill. Arthur Vizar was buried in 
Dursley churchyard in 1620, and there was a family of Perkes at 
Stinchcombe in the sixteenth century. Dursley is only a dozen miles 
west of Sapperton, where Richard Davies lived, the man who first 
recorded Shakespeare's 'unluckiness in stealing venison and rabbits', 
and a few miles east of Berkeley Castle, which Dr Caroline Spurgeon 

1 The home remained in the Hathaway faraUy until 1838; it wa bought by the Birthplace 
trustee! in 1892. 


thinks Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote Macbeth. But when- 
ever Shakespeare went to London, we know that he was there in 
1592, and moreover that he had been there long enough to establish 
a reputation as a dramatist. 


Under March 3rd, 1592 (N.S.) Philip Henslowe recorded the 
performance of a new play, probably at the Rose Theatre: 

In the name of god Amen 1591 begininge the 19 of Febreary my 
lord Stranges mene as ffoloweth 1591. . . . 
Mar. 3. ne Harey the vj iij" xvj 8 8 d . 

It was a popular success, for Thomas Nashe was almost certainly 
referring to this play, Henry PI, Part I, when he wrote in his Pierce 
Penile sse (1592): 

How would it have ioyed braue Talbot (the terror of the French) to 
thinke that after he had lyne two hundred yeares in his Tombe, hee 
should triumphe againe on the Stage, and haue his bones newe em- 
balmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least. 

Six months later, on September 3rd, Robert Greene died, one of the 
best known of the group of dramatists, the University Wits^ who had 
held the London stage for the last seven or eight years, and on his 
death-bed he wrote a farewell and an exhortation to his fellow play- 
wrights, Marlowe, Nasjic^ and Peele, in his Groatsworth of Wit 
bought with a Million of Repentance: 

To those Gentlemen his Quondam acquaintance, that spend their wits 
in making plates, R.G. wisheth a better exercise, and wisdome to preuent 
his extremities. . . . 

Base minded men all three of you, if by my miserie you be not warnd: 
for vnto none of you (like mee) sought those burres to cleaue: those 
Puppets (I meane) that spake from our mouths, those An ticks garnisht 
in our colours. Is it not strange, that I, to whom they all haue beene 
beholding: is it not like that you, to whome they all haue beene behold- 
ing, shall (were yee in that case as I am now) bee both at once of them 
forsaken? Yes trust them not: for there is an vpstart Crow, beautified 
with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyJe, 
supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of 
you: and being an absolute lohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit 
the onely Shake-scene in a countrey. O that I might intreat your rare 
,tp be imploied in more profitable courses: & let those Apes imitate 


your past excellence, and neuer more acquaint them with your admired 
inuentions. I knowe the best husband of you all will neuer proue an 
Usurer, and the kindest of them all will neuer proue a kind nurse: yet, 
whilest you may, seeke you better Maisters; for it is pittie men of such 
rare wits, should be subiect to the pleasure of such rude groomes. 

In this I might insert two more, that both haue writ against these 
buckram Gentlemen: but lette their owne workes serue to witnesse 
against their owne wickednesse, if they perseuere to maintaine any more 
such peasants. For other new-commers, I leaue them to the mercie of 
these painted monsters, who (I doubt not) will driue the best minded 
to despise them: for the rest, it skils not though they make a ieast at 

The passage is ambiguous, but there can be no doubt that *Shake- 
scene' is a punning reference to Shakespeare, who is described as 
having a 'Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde', an obvious parody 
of the line in 3 Henry VI^ 'O tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide'. 
This has been interpreted as meaning that Shakespeare, a presump- 
tuous upstart without those benefits of a university education possessed 
by Greene and the other University Wits, had had the audacity to 
adapt their old plays, particularly the two parts of Henry yi wnich 
had been published anonymously as The First Part of the Contention 
betwixt Yorke and Lancaster^ and The true Tragedie of Richard Duke 
of Yorke. It now seems certain, however, that these quartos were 
corrupt anH surreptitious copies of Shakespeare's own text, published 
later in the Folio as Henry ^7, Parts 2 and 3, and the passage seems 
to be more simply one of spite and self-pity, which might be para- 
phrased, 'These ungrateful actors (Puppets, Anticks, painted mon- 
sters) who have profited by the performance of our plays will abandon 
you just as they have abandoned me; for one of them, an uneducated 
and unscrupulous upstart called Shakespeare, is imitating our work 
and supplying his company with plays, and because he is an actor he 
thinks he can write plays as well as we can. It is too late to do any- 
thing about the plays which they already have, but you will be well 
advised to turn to other forms of literature, or at any rate not to let 
that company get' hold of any of your new work.' In other words, 
here is a new and dangerous portent, a new type of popular dramatist 
who is also an actor and will supply his company with plays; if the 
actor-dramatist becomes a common figure, who is going to buy our 
work, the plays of the professional and specialised dramatists? 

However this may be interpreted in detail, there is no doubt of the 
broad fact that Shakespeare was by 1592 an actor on the London 
stage, and a dramatist who had already made a name for himself. 
This is confirmed by the printer Henry Chettle, who in his Kind- 


Harts Dreame, published in December 1592, apologised for the part 
he had played in preparing Greene's pamphlet for the press: 

About three moneths since died M. Robert Greene, leauing many 
papers in sundry Booke sellers hands, among other his Groatsworth of 
wit, in which a letter written to diuers play-makers, is offensiuely by one 
or two of them taken; and because on the dead they cannot be auenged, 
they wilfully forge in their conceites a liuing Author: and after tossing 
it to and fro, no remedy, but it must light on me. How I haue all the 
time of my conuersing in printing hindered the bitter inueying against 
schollers, it hath been very well knowne; and how in that I dealt, I can 
sufficiently prooue. With neither of them that take offence was I 
acquainted, and with one of them I care not if I neuer be: The other, 
whome at that time I did not so much spare, as since I wish I had, for 
that as I haue moderated the heate of liuing writers, and might have 
vsde my owne discretion (especially in such a case) the Author being 
dead, that I did not, I am as sorry as if the originall fault had beene my 
fault, because my selfe haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he 
exelent in the qualitie he professes: Besides, diuers of worship haue 
reported his uprightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his 
facetious grace in writting, that aprooues his Art. 

The first of 'the play-makers that took offence' was probably 
Marlowe, to whom Greene had alluded as the creator of 'that Atheist 
Tamberlaine', the second, Shakespeare. Some time between the 
beginning of September and the end of November Chettle had met 
Shakespeare, and it is worth emphasising his testimony, the earliest 
first-hand account we have of Shakespeare, that he was as pleasant a 
young man as he was excellent an actor, and that a number of im- 
portant people had recognised the integrity of his character and his 
promise as a playwright. 

The history of the players' companies at this time, when Shake- 
speare first appears as actor and dramatist, is very confused. In the 
eighties there were at least six companies of licensed adult actors: 
Leicester's, Oxford's, Sussex's, Worcester's, the Admiral's, and the 
Queen's. Of these the Queen's Men were, from their formation in 
1583 until 1590, the most important, but then two other companies 
come to the fore, the Lord Admiral's, whose leading actor was 
Edward Alleyn, and Lord Strange's. The latter company had been 
strengthened by the addition of some of Leicester's Men on the death 
of the Earl of Leicester in 1588. Strange became Earl of Derby in 
1593, ^d on h* s death * n *594 his place as patron was filled by the 
Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, the first Lord Hunsdon, and 
shortly after his death in 1596 by his son George Carey, second Lord 


Hunsdon, who also became Lord Chamberlain. It was Strange's Men 
who performed Henry Vl^ Part \ in March 1592, but Henry VI , 
Part 3 was acted by Pembroke's Men, and Titus Andronicus^ accord- 
ing to the title-page of the 1 594 Quarto, by 'the Earle of Darbie, 
Earle of Pembrooke, and*Earle of Sussex their Seruants', and in June 
1594 Henslowe records a performance of the play at Newington 
Butts, where both 'my Lord Admeralle men & my Lorde Chamberlen 
men' were playing. Before 1594, then, Shakespeare might have 
written for a number of companies, but in December of that year 
he performed at Court as a member of the Chamberlain's Men, 
probably as a sharer in the profits of the company: 'Dec. 26, 27. 
William Kempe William Shakespeare & Richard Burbage seruantes to 
the Lord Chamberleyne'. Shakespeare remained with this company 
until the end of his career on the stage, and there is no evidence that 
he ever wrote for any other. 

For the greater part of the years 1593 anc ^ *594 the London 
theatres were closed on account of the plague, and it has been con- 
jectured, on the evidence of the plays with Italian settings, that 
Shakespeare travelled in Italy. It has also been suggested that he 
spent the time at Titchfield, the home of the young earl of South- 
ampton, and there wrote a first version of the courtly Lovers Labour** 
Lost. More prosaically and more probably he went on tour in the 
provinces with one of the companies, though there is no evidence of 
his having 'done so. We have no record of Shakespeare's whereabouts 
from the end of 1592 when Chettle met him in London until the 
end of 1594, when he was one of the Chamberlain's Men; but it 
was during the plague years that he published the two poems, Venus 
and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece. 

Venus and Adorns^ 'the first heir of my invention', the first book 
issued ~un3er" his own name, and apart from Lucrece the only book 
that Shakespeare himself saw through the press, was published in 
I 593- It was dedicated to Henry Wriothesley, 1 third Earl of 
Southampton, an immensely wealthy and handsome young man of 
nineteen, a favourite of the Queen, a friend of Essex, and a patron 
who appears to have stood Shakespeare in good stead. It is an 
elaborate and artificial piece of work, the lovely imagery loosely 
overlying the matter with which it has little organic connection, 
static rather than dynamic, and though the theme is wanton it lacks 
real passion, as though Shakespeare were more interested in the 
purblind hare and the 'dive-dapper peering through the wave' than 
in Venus leading Adonis 'prisoner in a red-rose chain'. It was a 

1 Pronounced Rotsly or Rot-es-ly. 


popular poem: there are a number of contemporary allusions to it, 
and it was reprinted nine times before his death, and, plays being 
scarcely considered as serious literature, it established him as a literary 
man. It was as a poet rather than as a dramatist that Shakespeare 
first won recognition. 

In the dedication Shakespeare had promised his patron 'to take 
aduantage of all idle houres, till I haue honoured you with some 
grauer labour', and in the following year he published The Rape of 
Lucrece^ again under his own name, and again with a dedication to 
Southampton: 'The loue I dedicate to your Lordship is without 
end: . . . What I haue done is yours, what I haue to doe is yours, 
being part in all I haue, deuoted yours.' Lucrece is more dramatic, 
though more rhetorical and didactic, than Venus and Adonis^ and it 
enhanced still further Shakespeare's reputation as a poet, being 
reprinted for the fifth time in the year of his death. 

Probably most of the Sonnets, were written about this time, for 
though they were not published till 1609, Francis Meres in his 
Palladis Tamia of 1 598 refers to 'Shakespeare's sugred Sonnets among 
his private friends'. Many of them at least must have been written 
about the time that he was writing Venus and Adonis and Lucrece and 
dedicating them to Southampton, and it seems reasonable to infer that 
the friend and patron addressed in them was Southampton himself. 
It will be remembered that Rowe on the authority of D'Avenant 
records how 'my Lord Southampton at one time gave him a thousand 
pounds to go through with a purchase which he heard he had a mind 
to'. The sum is fantastically large, equal to almost 10,000 of our 
money, but it is possible that the patron, honoured by two dedications, 
and perhaps the theme of the Sonnets^ gave Shakespeare a sum of 
money. If so the 'purchase which he had a mind to' might have been 
the buying of 'a fellowship in a cry of players'. Southampton came 
of age in October 1594, and shortly afterwards Shakespeare was a 
member of the Lord Chamberlain's Company, acting at Court, while 
his Comedy of Errors was performed at Gray's Inn on the following day. 
/" It is probable that the Sonnets reflect a real episode in Shakespeare's 
life. Though the Elizabethan sonnet was admittedly an artificial 
form, and a sonnet sequence a fashionable and courtly convention, 
it is possible that Shakespeare really had a deep attachment for a young 
and influential friend who robbed him of his mistress and showed 
favour to a rival poet, that there were quarrels, estrangements, and 
reconciliations. There is nothing improbable in the story, but to 
pursue it too literally is to pursue phantoms, for we really do not 
know who was the friend, or the other poet, or the dark lady. Maybe 


the actors were all spirits; but they sound like substance, and the 
ecstasy and pride, the anguish and distress, appear to be more than 
manufactured emotions. 

' It is also possible that there is a reference to another love affair of 
Shakespeare's in a book written about this time. Towards the end of 
1 594 Henry Willobie published a long dramatic poem called IVillobie 
his jivisa^ or the True Picture of a Modest Maid and of a Chaste and 
Constant Wife^ in which he tells how the virtuous Avisa is assailed 
by a number of lovers, and finally by H.W. himself. In a prose 
argument to this section of the poem he describes how he confides in 
'his familiar friend W.S., the old player', who was 'newly recovered 
of the like infection' not necessarily for Avisa and who turns out 
to be a 'miserable comforter' : 

H.W. being sodenly infected with the contagion of a fantasticall fit, 
at the first sight of A, pyneth a while in secret griefe, at length not able 
any longer to indure the burning heate of so feruent a humour, be- 
wrayeth the secresy of his disease vnto his familiar frend W. S. who not 
long before had tryed the curtesy of the like passion, and was now newly 
recouered of the like infection; yet finding his frend let bloud in the 
same vaine, he took pleasure for a tyme to see him bleed, & in steed of 
stopping the issue, he inlargeth the wound, with the sharpe rasor of a 
willing conceit, perswading him that he thought it a matter very easy 
to be compassed, & no doubt with payne, diligence & some cost in time 
to be obtayned. Thus this miserable comforter comforting his frend 
with an impossibilitie, eyther for that he now would secretly laugh at 
his frends folly, that had giuen occasion not long before vnto others to 
laugh at his owne, or because he would see whether an other could play 
his part better than himselfe, & in vewing a far off the course of this 
louing Comedy, he determined to see whether it would sort to a happier 
end for this new actor, then it did for the old player. But at length this 
Comedy was like to have growen to a Tragedy, by the weake & feeble 
estate that W.H. was brought vnto, by a desperate vewe of an impossi- 
bility of obtaining his purpose, til Time & Necessity, being his best 
Phisitions brought him a plaster, if not to heale, yet in part to ease his 

-/ To what extent the poem is biographical is difficult to say, but the 
theatrical imagery and the reference to W.S. as the old actor are 
suggestive. Add to this the counsel that W.S. gives to H.W. : 

She is no Saynt, She is no Nonne, 
I thinke in tyme she may be wonne, 

which recalls Sonnet 41: 


Gentle thou art, and therefore to be won, fj 
Beauteous thou art, therefore to be assailed, I 

and the fact that the reference to Shakespeare and his Lucrece in the 
commendatory verses affixed to the poem is the first known literary 
mention of his name, and it appears possible that W.S. is Shakespeare: 

Though Collatine haue deerely bought, 

To high renowne, a lasting life, 

And found, that most in vaine haue sought, 

To have a Fairc, and Constant wife, 

Yet Tarquyne pluck t his glistering grape, 
And Shake-spearc, paints poore Lucrece rape. 

If W.S. is Shakespeare it is just possible that the Mr W.H. of the 
Sonnets is Henry Willobie. We know little about him save that he 
was an Oxford man and *a scholler of very good hope' who went 
abroad 'voluntarily to her Maiesties service'. 

The next reference to Shakespeare is in the register of Stratford 
parish church: 1596, Aug. n. B. Hamnet filius William Shakspere. 
We must assume that from the end of 1 594 to the summer of 1 596 
he was acting with the Chamberlain's Men and writing plays for 
them, and by the time of Hamnet's death he had probably written the 
following poems and plays: 

Poems: Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, Sonnets, (A Lover's Complaint?) 
Comedies: The Comedy of Errors, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Love's 

Labour's Lost, The Taming of the Shrew. 
Histories: Henry VI Parts r, 2, 3, Richard III, Richard II. 
Tragedies: Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet. 

At the age of thirty-two, therefore, we find Shakespeare with 
some fourteen works to his credit, no longer an upstart crow but a 
very successful dramatist and poet, a comparatively wealthy man, a 
member of the leading company of actors, numbering Richard 
Burbage, William Kempe, John Heminge, Henry Condell, and 
Augustine Phillips among his colleagues and friends, according to 
Henry Chettle a charming man to meet, and acknowledged by 
'divers of worship', the chief of whom was his patron, and possibly 
his intimate friend, the Earl of Southampton. 


In 1596 Shakespeare was primarily a poet and a writer of dramatic 
poetry, that is of plays to which the poetry is more or less loosely 


and indiscriminately applied, as in Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo 
and JuKet\ as yet the play is little more than a pretext for the poetry. 
With the exception of Richard II and the not over-subtle Richard III, 
few of the serious characters in these early plays have much indi- 
viduality. But there is another element applied to the framework of 
the plays besides the poetry, the prose comedy, and already there is 
a formidable list of comic characters drawn largely from low life, of 
whom Launce and Juliet's nurse are the best known, and it was 
through the medium of comedy 'pastoral-comical' and 'comical- 
historical' that, during the next four or five years, Shakespeare was 
to develop the art of dramatic writing in which language and character 
are integrated and complementary. 

On August nth, 1596, Shakespeare's only son Hamnet, aged 
eleven and a half, was buried at Stratford, and it is possible that King 
John, which deals with the death of the young Prince Arthur, was 
written towards the end of this year. Anyway, it is reasonable to 
assume that Shakespeare came to Stratford for the funeral and renewed 
his acquaintance with his native town and the family which for ten 
or twelve years he can have seen but little of; though, according to 
Aubrey, *he was wont to goe to his native Country once a yeare', 
there are no records of his being in Stratford during this time. Nor 
do we know how Anne and her children fared, the only mention of 
her between her marriage and her husband's death being that of her 
indebtedness to Thomas Whittington of Shottery, a debt that was 
still unpaid according to his will in 1601 : 

Item I geve and bequeth unto the poore people of Stratford 40*. that 
is in the hand of Anne Shaxspere, wyf unto Mr Wyllyam Shaxspere, 
and is due debt unto me, beyng payd to myne Executor by the said 
Wyllyam Shaxspere or his assigns, accordyng to the true meanyng of 
this my wyll. 

But in addition to Hamnet's death there is other evidence to show 
that he resumed his relations with Stratford. In 1596 the persecution 
of his father for debt ceased, and there can be little doubt that it was 
his son's energy that made John Shakespeare apply to the College of 
Heralds for a grant of arms, an action which he had first contemplated 
when he was bailiff of Stratford in 1568-69. A draft was prepared in 
October 1 596, and the grant was apparently made, for in 1 599 he 
made a further application for leave to impale the arms of Arden. It 
is not certain that this second grant was made, for if it was the privilege 
was not exercised. The draft of 1599 ' ls largely a repetition of that 
of 1596 and reads as follows: 


. . . Wherfore being solicited and by credible report informed, That 
John Shakespere, nowe of Stratford vppon Avon in the Counte of 
Warwik Gentleman, Whose parent great Grandfather and late Ante- 
cessor, for his faithefull & approved service to the late most prudent 
prince king H 7 of famous memorie, war aduanced & rewarded with 
Landes and Tenements geven to him in those partes of Warwikeshere 
where they have continewed bie some descentes in good reputacon & 
credit. And for that the said John Shakespere, having maryed the 
daughter & one of the heyrs of Robert Arden of Wellingcote in the said 
countie, And also produced this his Auncient cote of Arms heretofore 
Assigned to him whilest he was her majesties officer & Baylife of that 
Towne. In consideration of the premisses, And for the encouragement 
of his posterite vnto whom suche Blazon of Arms & atchevementes of 
inheritance from theyre said mother, by the auncyent Custome & Lawes 
of Arms may Lawfullie descend, We the said Garter and Clarentieulx 
have Assigned, graunted, & confirmed & by these presentes exemplified 
Vnto the said John Shakespere, and to his posterite that Shield and cote 
of Arms viz. In a field of Gould vppon a Bend Sables A Speare of the 
first the poynt vpward hedded Argent, And for his creast or cognizance 
A Falcon, with his wynges displayed, standing on a wrethe of his 
coullers Supporting a Speare Armed hedded or & steeled sylvor fixed 
vppon a helmet with mantelles & tasselles as more playnly niaye appeare 
depicted on this Margent. And we have lykewise vppon an other 
escucheone impaled the same with the Auncyent Arms of the said 
Arden of Wellingcote, Signefeing thereby that it maye & shalbe Lawe- 
full for the said John Shakespere gentleman to beare & vse the same 
Shieldes of Arms Single or impaled as aforesaid during this natural Lyfe, 
And that it shalbe Lawfull for his children yssue & posterite (Lawfully 
begotten) to beare vse & quarter & shewe forthe the same with theyre 
dewe differences. . . . 

In 1602 there was some criticism of the grant, to which Garter and 
Clarencieux Kings of Arms replied that 'the man was A magestrat 
in Stratford vpon Avon. A Justice of peace he maryed A daughter 
and heyre of Ardern, and was of good substance and habelite.' 

In May 1597 Shakespeare bought New Place, the biggest house 
in Stratford, for j6o: 

Inter Willielmum Shakespeare querentem et Willielmum Underhill 
generosum deforciantem, de vno mesuagio duobus horreis et duobus 
gardinis cum pertinenciis in Stratford super Avon, . . . Et pro hac 
recognicione, remissione, quieta clamancia, warantia, fine et concordia 
idem Willielmus Shakespeare dedit predicto Willielmo Underhill 
sexaginta libras sterlingorum. 

A curious incident was connected with the transaction: the vendor, 


William Underbill, was poisoned by his son Fulke, and Shakespeare 
had to complete the transfer with the younger brother Hercules, who 
succeeded to the estate in 1602. In this second deed Shakespeare is 
described as generosus, or gentleman, and the house as being equipped 
not only with two barns and two gardens but with two orchards 
(duobus pomariis) as well. New Place had been built by Sir Hugh 
Clopton about a hundred years earlier and was described by Leland 
in the middle of the sixteenth century as 'a praty howse of brike and 
tymbar', though shortly afterwards it was 'in great ruyne and decay'. 
Shakespeare did not settle there permanently until 1610, though on 
February 4th, 1598, he is described as a householder in Chapel Street 
ward, and the owner of ten quarters of corn or malt. There was at 
this time a shortage of corn owing to a series of wet summers, the 
effect of which Shakespeare describes in A Midsummer Night's 

Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, 
As in revenge, have suck'd up from the sea 
Contagious fogs; which, falling in the land, 
Have every pelting river made so proud, 
That they have overborne their continents: 
The ox hath therefore stretch'd his yoke in vain, 
The ploughman lost his sweat; and the green corn 
Hath rotted ere his youth attain'd a beard. 

In order to prevent the hoarding of corn the Privy Council ordered 
stocks to be sold in the open market and an inventory to be made. 
Shakespeare may have been, in the words of the Council, one of the 
'wycked people in condicions more lyke to wolves or cormerants than 
to naturell men', though as he was almost certainly in London at the 
time he may have known nothing about the matter. 1 Perhaps the 
engrosser was Thomas Greene, who claimed to be Shakespeare's cousin 
and was living at New Place in 1609. 

It was probably William who persuaded his father to try to recover 
his mother's Wilmcote property which had been mortgaged to Edmund 
Lambert in 1578. John Shakespeare had tried to recover it on 
Edmund's death in 1587 when it had passed to his son John, and in 
1597 ^ e ma de a further attempt by bringing a suit in Chancery. 

Further evidence of his renewed intimacy with Stratford is con- 
tained in the correspondence of Richard Quiney, the son and partner 
of Adrian Quiney, a mercer of Stratford, and the father of Thomas 
Quiney, who in 1616 married Shakespeare's daughter Judith. On 

1 See Abraham Sturley's letter, dated 24 Jan. 1598, to Richard Quiney, who was then in 


January 24th, 1598, Abraham Sturley, a brother member of the town 
Corporation, wrote, at the instigation of Adrian Quiney, to Richard 
who was in London, suggesting that he might interest Shakespeare 
in 'our tithes': 

This is one speciall remembrance from vr fathers motion. It semeth 
bj him that our countriman, Mr Shaksper, is willinge to disburse some 
monei vpon some od yardeland or other att Shottri or neare about vs; 
he thinketh it a verj fitt patterne to move him to deale in the matter of 
our tithes. Bj the instruccions v can geve him theareof, and bj the frendes 
he can make therefore, we thinke it a faire marke for him to shoote att, 
and not unpossible to hitt. It obtained would advance him in deede, 
and would do vs muche good. 

On November 4th, 1598, Sturley acknowledged a letter from 

Vr letter of the 2 5 of October came to mj handes the laste of the 
same att night per Grenwaj, which imported . . . that our countriman 
Mr Wm. Shak. would procure vs monej, which I will like of as I shall 
heare when, and wheare, and howe; and I praj let not go that occasion 
if it may sort to any indifferent condicions. Allso that if monej might 
be had for 30 or 40', a lease, &c., might be procured. 

A few days before, Adrian had written to his son: 

Yff yow bargen with Mr Sha. . or receve money therfor, ^ttjfyige 
your money home yf yow maye, I see howe knite stockynges Be sold, 
ther ys gret byinge of them at Evysshome. Edward Wheat and Harr^e, 
your brother man, were both at Evyshome thys daye senet, and, as 1 
harde, bestow 20". ther in knyt hosseyngs, wherefore I thynke yow 
maye doo good, yff yow can have money. 

Evidently Sturley and the Quineys were in need of ready money and 
looked to the prosperous owner of New Place to help them out of 
their difficulties. But the most interesting letter is that written by 
Richard to Shakespeare himself: 

Loveinge Contreyman, I am bolde of yowe as of a ffrende, craveinge 
yowre helpe with xxx u vppon Mr Bushells & my securytee or Mr 
Myttons with me. Mr. Rosswell is nott come to London as yeate & I 
have especiall cawse. Yowe shall ffrende me muche in helpeinge me out 
of all the debettes I owe in London, I thancke god, & muche quiet my 
mynde which wolde nott be indebeted. I am nowe towardes the Cowrte 
in hope of answer for the dispatche of my Buysenes. Yowe shall neither 
loase creddytt nor monnney by me, the Lorde wyllinge, & nowe butt 


perswade yowre selfe soe as I hope & yowe shall nott need to feare butt 
with all hartie thanckefullenes I will holde my tyme & content yowre 
ffrende, & yf we Bargaine farther yowe shalbe the paiemaster yowre 
self. My tyme biddes me hasten to an ende Sc soe I committ thys yowre 
care & hope of yowre helpe. I feare I shall nott be backe thys night 
ffrom the Cowrte. Haste. The Lorde be with yowe Sc with vs all Amen, 
ffrom the Bell in Carter Lane the 25 October 1598. Yowres in all 
kyndenes Rye. Quyney. 

The letter is addressed 'To my Loveinge good ffrend & countreymann 
Mr Wm. Shackespere'. 

It was on the same day, October 25th, that Richard wrote to 
Sturley telling him that 'Mr Wm. Shak. would procure vs monej', 
and Sturley in his reply mentions 30 or 40, the sum that Richard 
had asked for. It seems probable that Shakespeare lost no time in 
answering his friend's request. 

But though Shakespeare thus renewed his acquaintance with Strat- 
ford and restored the fortunes of his family, for the next fourteen or 
fifteen years he lived for most of the time in London. Some time 
before the end of 1597 ^ e ^ a( ^ keen li ym g m St. Helen's, Bishopsgate, 
near The Theatre, for in the November of that year the petty col- 
lectors within the ward reported that William Shackspere owed 5s. 
and was one of the persons who 


are all ether dead, departed, and gone out of the sayde warde or their 
goodes soe eloigned or conveyd out of the same or in suche a pryvate 
or coverte manner kept, whereby the severall sommes of money on them 
severallye taxed and assessed towards the sayde secound payment of the 
sayde last subsydye nether mighte nor coulde by anye meanes by them 
the sayde petty collectors, or ether of them, be levyed of them, or anye 
of them, to her Maiesties use. 

In October 1598 he was assessed, again in St. Helen's, at 133. 4d. on 
goods valued at 5, but failed to pay when the sum was due a year 
later, and his name appears on the Pipe Roll of 1598-9 and 1599- 
1 600 as debtor to the Exchequer for 1 35. 4d. As the debt was then 
referred to the Bishop of Winchester, who was responsible for the 
collection of taxes in the liberty of the Clink on the Surrey Bankside, 
he seems to have moved across the river to Southwark some time 
before the end of 1599. The jQJobe theatre was built in Southwark 
on the Bankside in 1 599, and it is possible that he moved in order to 
be near it. Malone in 1796 professed to have 'a curious document 
which affords the strongest presumptive evidence that he continued 
to reside in Southwark to the year i6o8\ though in 1604 Shakespeare 

-^^^22^ '^r^.M *&: 



lodged for a time in the house of Christopher Mountjoy in Cripplegate 
ward. In the deposition of May 1612 in the Belott-Mountjoy suit 
he is described as * William Shakespeare of Stratford vpon Aven in the 
Countye of Warwicke gentleman of the age of xlviij yeres or there- 

This return to the scenes of his early life seems to have affected 
Shakespeare's imagination strongly, for all through the plays of this 
period run references to the Warwickshire and Gloucestershire country- 
side, their villages and inhabitants. A list of the plays probably written 
during this period (summer 1596 to the end of 1600) is suggestive: 

Comedies: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant ofFenice, The 
Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado About Nothing, As You 
like //, Twelfth Night. 

Histories: King John, Henry IF Parts I and II, Henry V. 

There can be no doubt that Bottom and his friends are natives of 
Warwickshire, and that the fairy-haunted and moon-lit wood near 
Athens is the same as that frequented in daylight by Rosalind, 
Touchstone, and Jaques, and that both are identical with the Warwick- 
shire Forest of Arden. The Induction to The Taming of the Shrew^ 
which may belong to this period, introduces Christopher Sly, 'old 
Sly's son of Burtonheath, by present profession a tinker', and if we 
don't believe him he tells us to ask 4 Marian Hacket, the fat ale-wife 
of Wincot', if she know him not. Barton on the Heath was the home 
of Shakespeare's uncle Edmund Lambert, and Wincot is a tiny hamlet 
four miles south of Stratford, near Quinton, where Sara, daughter of 
Robert Hacket, was baptised in November 1591. In the Second Part 
of Henry iy some of the best comedy in Shakespeare takes place in 
Justice Shallow's orchard on the Cotswolds. Justice Shallow himself 
may be Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, the reputed persecutor of 
Shakespeare for deer-stealing; Shallow mentions as one of the friends 
of his youth Will Squele, a Cotswold man, and is at first loath 4 to 
countenance William Visor of Woncot against Clement Perkes of 
the HilP, a reference to the Vizars of Woodmancote and the Perkes 
family of the neighbouring Stinchcombe Hill on the edge of the south 
Cotswolds. Justice Shallow again appears as a figure of fun in The 
Merry Wives of Windsor ', and it is his cousin Slender who asks Page, 
'How does your fallow greyhound, sir? I heard he was outrun on 
Cotsall.' It is impossible to resist the conclusion that the plays of this 
period were partly inspired by a prolonged visit to Stratford in 1596. 

Six years after Greene's malicious remarks about the upstart crow 
/occurs a very different sort of reference to Shakespeare. On September 


yth, 1598, a book called Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury was entered 
in the Stationers' Register and published shortly afterwards. It was 
written by Francis Meres, a Cambridge graduate then living in 
London, and among other matter, literary and moral, contains 'A 
comparatiue discourse of our English poets with the Greeke, Latine^ 
and Italian Poets'. Of Shakespeare he writes: 

As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to Hue in Pythagoras', so the 
sweete wittie soule of Quid liues in mellifluous & hony-tongued Shake- 
speare, witnes his Fenus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets 
among his priuate friends, &c. 

As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and 
Tragedy among the Latines: so Shakespeare among the English is the 
most excellent in both kinds for the stage; for Comedy, witnes his 
Gentlemen of Verona, his Errors, his Loue labors lost, his Loue labours 
wonne, his Midsummers night dreame, Sc his Merchant of Venice', for 
Tragedy his Richard the 2. Richard the 3. Henry the 4. King lohn, 
Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and luliet. 

As Epius Stolo said, that the Muses would speake with Plautus 
tongue, if they would speak Latin: so I say that the Muses would speak 
with Shakespeares fine filed phrase, if they would speake English. 

Despite its preposterous pedantry this reference is invaluable as an 
aid in dating the plays, and interesting in that it shows that a man 
with some pretensions to be a judge ranked Shakespeare as the greatest 
English dramatist of the day. 

Shakespeare worked very hard during these four years, 1597-1600, 
writing more than two plays a year in addition to his work as an actor. 
At the age of thirty-four he was according to Meres 'the most excellent 
in both kinds for the stage', and that his name carried weight is sug- 
gested by the publication with his name on the title-page of The 
Passionate Pilgrim in 1599; even as early as 1595 The Tragedy of 
Locrine was advertised as being by W.S., possibly with the intention 
of deluding the public into the belief that it was by Shakespeare. 
Again Rowe records the tradition that when Ben Jonson was 'alto- 
gether unknown to the World', it was Shakespeare who secured the 
acceptance of one of his plays after it had been rejected; and Shake- 
speare's name stands first in the list of actors who took part in the 
original production of Every Man in his Humour in 1598. 

In that year the Chamberlain's Men were playing at The Curtain 
in Moorfields; for two years before that, and probably longer, they 
had been at The Theatre in Shoreditch, but it was in such bad repair 
that it was pulled down and its materials used by Cuthbert and Richard 
Burbage in the construction of the Globe on the Bankside, which 


was opened in 1599. This remained their headquarters, though after 
their acquisition in 1608 of the Blackfriars, which had a roof and 
was therefore more suitable for winter performances, it lost some of 
its original importance. There is an informative statement by Cuthbert 
Burbage made in 1635 when he was engaged in litigation about his 
rights in the Globe and Blackfriars theatres: 

The father of vs Cutbert and Richard Burbage was the first builder 
of Playhowses, and was himselfe in his younger yeeres a Player. The 
Theater hee built with many Hundred poundes taken vp at interest. 
The players that liued in those first times had onely the proffits arising 
from the dores, but now the players receaue all the commings in at the 
dores to themselues and halfe the Galleries from the Houskepers. Hee 
built this house vpon leased ground, by which meanes the landlord and 
Hee had a great suite in law, and by his death, the like troubles fell on 
vs, his sonnes; wee then bethought vs of altering from thence, and at 
like expence built the Globe with more summes of money taken vp at 
interest, which lay heauy on vs many yeeres, and to our selues wee 
ioyned those deserueing men, Shakspere, Hemings, Condall, Philips and 
others partners in the profittes of that they call the House, but makeing 
the leases for twenty-one yeeres hath beene the destruction of our selues 
and others, for they dyeing at the expiration of three or four yeeres of 
their lease, the subsequent yeeres became dissolued to strangers, as by 
marrying with their widdowes, and the like by their Children. Thus, 
Right Honorable, as concerning the Globe, where wee our selues are 
but lessees. Now for the Blackfriers that is our inheritance, our father 
purchased it at extreme rates and made it into a playhouse with great 
charge and treble, which after was leased out to one Euans that first 
sett up the Boyes commonly called the Queenes Majesties Children of 
the Chappell. In processe of time the boyes growing vp to bee men, 
which were Vnderwood, Field, Ostler, and were taken to strengthen 
the Kings service, and the more to strengthen the service, the boyes 
dayly wearing out, it was considered that house would bee as fitt for our 
selues, and soe purchased the lease remaining from Euans with our 
money, and placed men Players, which were Hemings, Condall, 
Shakspeare, &c. 

It is necessary to distinguish the actors, who were sharers in the 
net profits of the company, from the 'housekeepers', who were part- 
owners of the theatre for which the actors paid rent, and who were 
responsible for its upkeep. The patent of May igth, 1603, when the 
Chamberlain's Men became the King's Men, gives nine actor- 
sharers, though it is probable that the position of Lawrence Fletcher, 
who had been 'comediane serviture' to James in Scotland, was only 


Wee. .doe licence and aucthorize theise our Seruantes Lawrence 
Fletcher, William Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustyne Phillippes, 
lohn Heninges, Henrie Condell, William Sly, Robert Armyn, Richard 
Cowly, and the rest of theire Associates freely to vse and exercise the 
Arte and faculty of playing Comedies, Tragedies, histories, Enterludes, 
moralls, pastoralls, Stageplaies and Suche others like as theie haue 
alreadie studied or hereafter shall vse or studie aswell for the recreation 
of our lovinge Subjectes as for our Solace and pleasure when wee shall 
thincke good to see them duringe our pleasure. 

Some of the actor-sharers were also housekeepers, for when the Globe 
was built Richard and Cuthbert Burbage kept a half interest in it for 
themselves, and divided the other half among Shakespeare, Phillips, 
Pope, Heminge, and Kempe. This is made clear in a statement by 
Heminge and Condell during a lawsuit of 1619: 

The said gardens and groundes wherevpon the said playhowse & 
galleryes were afterwardes builded were demised & letten by the said 
Nicholas Brend by his indenture of lease tripartite bearing date in or 
about the xxj 111 day of February in the xlj th yeere of the raigne of the 
late Queene Elizabeth vnto Cuthbert Burbadge, Richard Burbadge, 
William Shakespeare, the said Augustine Phillipps, Thomas Pope, the 
said John Heminges one of the said defendantes, and William Kempe, 
to have and to hould the one moitie of the said garden plottes and ground 
to the said Cuthbert Burbadge and Richard Burbadge, their executours, 
administratours & assignes, from the feast of the birth of our Lord God 
last past before the date of the said indenture vnto thend & terme of 
xxxj yeeres from thence next ensuing for the yeerely rent of seaven 
poundes & five shillinges, and to haue & to hould thother moitie of the 
said garden plottes & groundes vnto the said William Shakespeare, 
Augustine Phillipps, Thomas Pope, the said John Heminges one of the 
said defendantes, & William Kempe, their executours, administratours 
& assignes, from the said feast of the birth of our Lord God then last 
past before the date of the said indenture vnto the said full end & terme 
of xxxj yeeres from thence next ensuing for the like yeerely rent of 
seaven poundes & five shillinges. Which said William Shakespeare, 
Augustine Phillipps, Thomas Pope, John Heminges & William Kempe 
did shortlie after graunte & assigne all the said moitie of & in the said 
gardens & groundes vnto William Levison and Thomas Savage, who 
regraunted & reassigned to euerye of them seuerally a fift parte of the 
said moitie of the said gardens & groundes, vpon which premisses or 
some part thereof there was shortly after built the said then playhowse. 

In 1599, therefore, the two Burbages held half of the shares in the 
Globe between them, and Shakespeare had a tenth; Kempe left the 
company in the same year, so that Shakespeare then held an eighth, 


though this was reduced to a fourteenth by the entry of Condell, 
Sly, and Ostler between 1605 and 1612. In the Blackfriars, accord- 
ing to the original lease of August gth, 1608, he held a seventh of the 
shares, which after the death of Sly in that year became a sixth, but 
reverted to a seventh on the entry of Ostler in 1611. There is no 
mention of these shares in Shakespeare's will, and it is possible that 
he sold them on his retirement or after the fire at the Globe in 1613. 
Sir Sidney Lee calculated that 'Shakespeare in the latter period of 
his life was earning above 600 a year in money of the period', but 
Sir Edmund Chambers has shown that this is a great over-estimate. 
From statements made in the Burbage suit of 1635 he estimates that 
if Shakespeare had been at that date an actor-sharer and a housekeeper 
both at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres his total profits would have 
been about 205. It is improbable that Shakespeare ever made more 
than this, and it might often be considerably less, for owing to the 
plague the London theatres were shut and the players forced to travel 
for the last three months of 1605, the last half of 1606 and of 1607, 
and from August 1608 to November 1609. Shakespeare may have 
given up acting soon after the accession of James I, for although he 
heads the list of 'The Names of the Principall Actors in all these 
Playes' prefixed to the First Folio, 1 the last record of his performing 
is late in 1603, when he played in Ben Jonson's Sejanus. If so, and 
he continued to draw his profit as an actor-sharer, it was probably in 
return for the plays with which he supplied the company. Neverthe- 
less, Shakespeare was a comparatively wealthy man; by 1600 his 
income may well have been the equivalent of 1,000 to > 1,500 in 
our money, and ten years later ,1,500 to 2,000. 


The turn of the century is also a turning point in Shakespeare's 
career as a dramatist: the carefree comedies cease abruptly and the 
great series of tragedies begins, quietly enough, with Julius Casar 

1 William Shakespeare. Samuel Gilburne. 

Richard Burbadge. Robert Armin. 

John Hemming*. William Ostler. 

Augustine Phillips. Nathan Field. 

William Kempt. John Vnderwood. 

Thomat Poope. Nicholas Tooley. 

George Bryan. William Ecclestone. 

Henry Condell. Joseph Taylor. 

William Slye. Robert Benfield. 

Richard Cowly. Robert Goughe. 

John Lowine. Richard Robinson. 

Samuell Crosse. lohn Shancke. 

Alexander Cooke. lohn Rice. 


in 1600,* running with mounting violence through the cynicism of 
Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida, is interrupted by the sombre comedies 
of All's ^>//and Measure for Measure, and then bursts into the despair 
and misanthropy of Othello, Timon, Lear, and Macbeth, the violent 
passion ebbing in the great golden flood of Antony and Cleopatra, and 
the chilly Coriolanus with which the series closes in 1608. 

Of Shakespeare's inner life we know only the little that we think 
we can discover in his works, which are symptoms of his spiritual 
condition, not the cause; and there are no external events which we 
can assign as a sufficient reason for the profound emotional upheaval 
of these years. There was one event, however, of the time when he 
began to write Hamlet, which may have powerfully affected him; 
this was the rebellion and execution of Essex for treason in February 
1601. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, was a favourite of Elizabeth, 
but a vain and ambitious young man engaged in the intrigues as to 
who should succeed the ageing Queen on her death. Opposed to him 
was Cecil and his faction who trapped him into accepting the Lord- 
Deputyship of Ireland with the unenviable task of putting down 
Tyrone's rebellion, and after some delay he made a spectacular 
departure from London in March 1599 with Shakespeare's patron, 
Southampton, as his Master of Horse. 

At this time Shakespeare was finishing Henry V, in the Chorus to 
the last Act of which he compares Henry's return to England from 
France with the expected return of Essex from Ireland: 

As, by a lower but loving likelihood, 
Were now the general of our gracious empress, 
As in good time he may, from Ireland coming, 
Bringing rebellion broached on his sword, 
How many would the peaceful city quit, 
To welcome him! 

Essex, however, did not bring home rebellion broached on his sword; 
instead he made a disastrous truce with Tyrone, lost his nerve, and 
fled to England, where on September 28th he burst into the Queen's 
room and threw himself upon her mercy. But Elizabeth did not 
forgive him; he was a discredited and ruined man, and became thence- 
forth the rallying point of other malcontents. The Council was 
alarmed and demanded an explanation; this forced Essex's hand, and 
on February 8th, 1601, he led his small band of supporters, South- 

1 Julius Casar may have been written in 1599 after Henry V, to which it has stylistic 
resemblances, and before Much Ado, As Tou Like It, and Twelfth Night, or in 1600, after 
these comedies and immediately before Hamlet, with which it has affinities of characterisation. 


ampton among them, into the City, hoping to raise the citizens and 
train-bands; but few followed him, and he was forced to surrender. 
Essex and Southampton were brought to trial on February igth and 
both were condemned to death. Essex was executed on February 25th; 
Southampton was spared because 'the poor young earl, merely for the 
love of Essex, had been driven into this action', but he was sentenced 
to imprisonment for life. 

The intensity of the effect of this disaster on Shakespeare would 
depend on his relations with Southampton. Southampton was the 
patron to whom he had dedicated his poems seven or eight years 
before; he may have helped Shakespeare financially, and he may have 
been the inspirer of the Sonnets; but there is no certain evidence to 
show that there was any great intimacy between them. If their 
relationship were merely the conventional one of patron and client, 
Shakespeare might not be greatly moved, but if Southampton were 
the Mr. W.H. of the Sonnets^ Shakespeare must have watched his 
friend's perilous progress with something like despair. That he dis- 
approved is certain, and both Hamlet and Troilus and Cressida left no 
doubt as to which side he was on: 

There's such divinity doth hedge a king, 
That treason can but peep to what it would, 
Acts little of his will, 

Take but degree away, untune that string, 
And, hark, what discord follows! 

There was a curious incident on the day before the rising. Essex's 
supporters paid forty shillings to Shakespeare's company for a per- 
formance at the Globe of Richard //, and warmly applauded the 
scene of Richard's deposition. At the trial Augustine Phillips was 
called upon to explain the circumstances of the revival: 

The Examination of Augustyne Phillypps servant vnto the L Cham- 
berlayne and one of hys players taken the xviij m of Februarij 1600 
vpon hys oth. 

He sayeth that on Fryday last was sennyght or Thursday Sr Charles 
Percy Sr Josclyne Percy and the L. Montegle with some thre more 
spak to some of the players in the presans of thys examinate to have the 
play of the desposyng and kyllyng of Kyng Rychard the second to be 
played the Saterday next promysyng to gete them xlr. more then their 
ordynary to play yt. Wher thys Examinate and hys fellowes were deter- 
myned to have played some other play, holdyng that play of Kyng 
Richard to be so old & so long out of vse as that they shold have small 


or no Company at yt. But at their request this Examinate and his 
fellowes were Content to play yt the Saterday and had their xlf. more 
then their ordynary for yt and so played yt accordyngly. 

It is curious that no proceedings were taken against the company, and 
on February 24th, the day before Essex's execution, they even played 
before Elizabeth at Whitehall. 

The accession of James I in the spring of 1603 brought prefer- 
ment and further prosperity to Shakespeare and his company, who 
were licensed by royal letters patent 'freely to vse and exercise the 
Arte and faculty of playing' that is, to act in any town or university, 
a privilege that had previously been denied and one that they quickly 
exercised, for the first Quarto of Hamlet , 1 603, states that the play 
'hath beene diuerse times acted by his Highnesse seruants in the Cittie 
of London: as also in the two Vniuersities of Cambridge and Oxford'. 1 
Henceforth they were to be known as the King's Company, though 
still under the immediate control of the Lord Chamberlain from 
1603 to 1614 Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk and its members 
ranked as Grooms of the Chamber. In 1 604 they walked in scarlet 
cloaks in the procession when the king made his formal entry into 

Red Clothe bought of sondrie persons and giuen by his Maiestie to 
diuerse "persons against his Maiesties sayd royall proceeding through 
the Citie of London, viz: 

Fawkeners &c. &c. Red cloth 

William Shakespeare iiij yardes di. 

Augustine Phillipps 2 

Lawrence Fletcher 

John Hemminges 

Richard Burbidge 

William Slye 

Robert Armyn 

Henry Cundell 

Richard Cowley 

In the winter of 1604-5 they performed eleven times at Court, and 
most of the plays were by Shakespeare: Othello, Merry tfives. Measure 

1 The plague, from which London had been free for ten years, broke out in the spring 
of 1603 and lasted till that of 1604. The theatres were closed, and the King's Men had to 

* Augustine Phillips died in 1605 and left 'amongste the hyred men of the Company which 
I am of ... the some of fyfe pounds of lawfull money of England to be equally distributed 
amongeste them, Item I geve and bequeathe to my Fellowe William Shakespeare a thirty 
shillings peece in gould . . .'. 


for Measure^ Comedy of Errors^ Love's Labour's Lost^ Henry V, and 
The Merchant of Venice (twice). 

James's accession also brought the release of Southampton from the 
Tower, and it is possible that Sonnet 107 refers to the death of 
Elizabeth, 'the mortal moon', to the peaceful accession of James in 
'this most balmy time', and the release of Southampton, 'forfeit to a 
confined doom'. But the tone of the poem is at odds with that of the 
plays of this period, and also with that of the period itself. The heroic 
days of Elizabeth were over, and a conceited and cowardly king sat 
on the throne surrounded by a drunken and profligate court. 'I think 
the Dane hath strangely wrought on our good English nobles', wrote 
Sir John Harrington, 'for those, whom I could never get to taste 
good liquor, now follow the fashion, and wallow in beastly delights. 
The ladies abandon their sobriety, and are seen to roll about in 
intoxication.' They were sombre and inglorious years, and no doubt 
intensified Shakespeare's tragic mood, but in themselves they are 
insufficient to account for the plays: the real cause is not written in 
the history of the times, but in the intimate history of Shakespeare's 

His father, John Shakespeare, died in 1601 and was buried at 
Stratford on September 8th: 'a merry Cheekd old man that said, Will 
was a good Honest Fellow but he durst have crackt a jeast with him 
at any time'. There is no record of a will, but his sole remaining 
property, the two houses in Henley St., passed to Shakespeare, though 
his widow lived in one of them until her death in 1608. 

Shakespeare was now the head of his family, and although his two 
younger brothers, Gilbert and Richard, were living in Stratford, there 
were also four women for whom he was responsible: his mother, his 
wife, and his two daughters, Susanna and Judith. No doubt it was 
largely owing to this responsibility that he began to take a greater 
interest in the affairs of his native town and at the same time to loosen 
his ties with London, for if, as seems probable, he abandoned his 
acting about 1604 and concentrated on writing, he would be more the 
master of his time and able to divide it much as he pleased between 
London and Stratford. 

In 1602, shortly after his father's death, he bought from William 
and John Combe for ^320 a hundred and seven acres of arable land 
and twenty acres of pasture and rights of common in the open fields 
near Welcome just to the north of Stratford: 

This Indenture made the firste daie of Maye, in the fowre and 
fortieth yeare of the raigne of our Soueraigne Ladie Elizabeth. .Be- 
twcene William Combe of Warrwicke, in the countie of Warrwick, 


Esquier, and John Combe of Olde Stretford, in the countie aforesaide, 
gentleman, on the one partie, And William Shakespere of Stretford 
vppon Avon, in the countie aforesaide, gentleman, on thother partye, 
Witnesseth that the saide William Combe and John Combe, for and in 
consideracion of the somme of three hundred and twentie poundes of 
currant Englishe money . . . have aliened, bargayned, solde, geven, 
graunted and confirmed, and by theis presentes doe fullye, clearlie and 
absolutelie alien, bargayne, sell, give, graunte and confirme vnto the 
saide William Shakespeare, All and singular those errable landes, with 
thappurtenaunces, conteyninge by estymacion fowre yarde lande of 
errable lande, scytuate, lyinge and beinge within the parrishe, feildes or 
towne of Olde Stretford aforesaide, in the said countie of Warrwick, 
conteyninge by estimacion one hundred and seaven acres, be they more 
or lesse, And also all the common of pasture for sheepe, horse, kyne or 
other cattle in the feildes of Olde Stretford aforesaide, to the said fowre 
yarde lande belonginge or in any wise apperteyninge, And also all hades, 
leys, tyinges, proffittes, advantages and commodities whatsoeuer, with 
their and euerie of their appurtenaunces, to the saide bargayned prem- 
isses belonging or apperteyninge. 

The deed was 'Sealed and deliuered to Gilbert Shakespere, to the vse 
of the within named William Shakespere'. The 'hades, leys, tyinges' 
may be the 'viginti acris pasture' mentioned with the *centum et 
septum acris^ terre' in a supplementary conveyance of 1 6 1 o, or the 
twenty acres of pasture may have been a new purchase. 

In the same year, on September 28th, Shakespeare bought from 
Walter Getley a cottage opposite the garden of New Place in Chapel 
Lane, otherwise called Dead Lane or Walker's Street: 

Ad hanc curiam venit Walterus Getley . . et sursumreddidit in manus 
domine manerii predicti vnum cotagium cum pertinenciis scituatum 
iacens et existens in Stratford super Avon, in quondam vico ibidem 
vocato Walkers Streete alias Dead Lane, ad opus et vsum Willielmi 
Shackespere . . 

The cottage was within the Manor of Rowington, a Survey of which 
states that in October 1604, 

William Shakespere lykewise holdeth there one cottage and one 
garden, by estimation a quarter of one acre, and payeth rent yeerlye 
ij 8 , vj d . 

It was in Stratford that Shakespeare brought an action in 1604 
against Philip Rogers, an apothecary, to whom he had lent 2s. and 
supplied malt to the value of ^i igs. lod. Rogers repaid 6s. and 


Shakespeare sued him for the balance of i 1 5*. iod. Again in March 
1609 the Stratford Court of Record issued a precept to arrest and 
produce John Addenbrooke 

ad satisfaciendum Willielmo Shackspere generoso, tarn de sex libris 
debiti quas predictus Willielmus in eadem curia versus cum recuperavit 
quam de viginti et quatuor solidis qui ei adiudicati fuerent pro dampnis 
et custagiis suis quos sustinuit occacione detencionis debiti predict!. 

But Addenbrooke was not to be found: 'Infranominatus Johannes 
non est inventus infra libertatem hujus burgi', and Shakespeare had 
to proceed against his surety, Thomas Horneby, for the recovery of 
his ;6 and 24*. costs. 

As early as 1598 Abraham Sturley had written to Richard Quiney 
suggesting that as 'our countriman, Mr Shaksper, is willinge to dis- 
burse some monei vpon some od yardeland or other att Shottri or 
neare about vs' it might be 'a verj fitt patterne to move him to deale 
in the matter of our tithes'. Four years later Shakespeare bought 
'some od yardeland att Shottri or neare', and in 1605 he paid 440 
for the lease of a parcel of tithes in the hamlets of Old Stratford, 
Welcombe, and Bishopton: 

This indenture nowe witnesseth that the sayed Raphe Hubande, for 
and in consideracion of the somme of foure hundred and fourtye 
poundes of lawfull Englishe money to him by the sayed William Shake- 
spear, . . . hathe demised, graunted, assigned and sett over . . . vnto the 
sayed William Shakespear ... the moytie or one half of all and singuler 
the sayed tythes of corne, grayne, blade and heye, yearelye and from 
tyme to tyme cominge ... in the townes, villages, hamlettes, groundes 
and fyeldes of Stratforde, Olde Stratforde, Welcombe, and Bushopton 
. . . and alsoe the moytie or one half of all and singuler the sayed tythes 
of wooll, lambe, and other smalle and pryvie tythes, herbage, oblacions, 
obvencions, alterages, mynumentes and olFeringes whatsoeuer, yearelye 
and from tyme to tyme cominge . . . within the parishe of Stratforde 
vpon Avon aforesayed. 

In return for his profits from the tithes, which in 161 1 were valued 
at 60 a year, Shakespeare was to pay 

vnto the baylyffe and burgesses of Stratford aforesaid, and their suc- 
cessors, the yearelye rent of seaventeen poundes . . . and vnto the sayed 
John Barker, his executours, administratours or assignes, the annual or 
yearelye rente of fyve pounds. 

This last clause led in 1611 to a complaint by Shakespeare and two 


other holders of the same parcel of tithes, Richard Lane and Thomas 
Greene, that Mary, William, and John Combe, 'or some or one of 
them', fellow tithe-owners, were not paying their share of the total 
mean rent of 27 1 3*. \d. due to Barker. As Barker had the right of 
re-entry in default of the payment of this rent 'in parte or in all', this 
meant that 

Richard Lane and William Shackspeare, and some fewe others of the 
said parties, are wholly, and against all equity and good conscience, 
usually dryven to pay the same for preservacion of their estates. 

William Combe replied that he did pay his 5 but was willing to pay 
another 6s. Sd. for other tithes, provided all the other parties paid 
their share. Incidentally, John Combe, William's uncle, was the 'old 
rich Usurer' of Aubrey and others, upon whom Shakespeare was said 
to have made the 'extemporary Epitaph': 'Ten in the Hundred the 
Devill allowes But Combes will have twelve', etc. The story is almost 
certainly apocryphal, for versions of this epitaph were common, and 
when John Combe died in 1614 he left Shakespeare 5. 

There are a number of entries in the Register of Stratford parish 
church which sketch the history of Shakespeare's family during this 

1600, Aug. 28. C. Wilhelmus films Wilhelmi Hart. 

1 60 1, Sept. 8. B. Mr Johannes Shakspeare. 
1603, June. 5. C. Maria filia Wilhelmi Hart. 

1605, July. 24. C. Thomas fil. Wilhelmus Hart Hatter. 
1607, June. 5. M. John Hall gentleman & Susanna Shaxspere. 

1607, Dec. 17. B. Mary dawghter to Willyam Hart. 

1608, Feb. 21. C. Elizabeth dawghter to John Hall gentleman. 
1608, Sept. 9. B. Mayry Shaxspere, wydowe. 

1608, Sept. 23. C. Mychaell sonne to Willyam Hart. 

And then in London, first in the Register of St. Giles's, Cripplegate, 
then in that of St. Saviour's, South wark, occur the entries: 

1607, Aug. 12. B. Edward sonne of Edward Shackspeere, Player: 

1607, Dec. 31. B. Edmond Shakespeare, a player: in the Church. 

William Hart, of whom nothing is known save that he was a 
hatter, married Shakespeare's sister Joan, but there is no record of 
their marriage. Joan was thirty-one in 1600 when her first child was 
born. She was living in the 'Birthplace' in 1616, and her descendants 


by her third child Thomas occupied the house until 1806, when it 
was sold and became a butcher's shop. 

In 1607 Shakespeare's elder daughter Susanna was married to Dr 
John Hall, and in the following year his only grandchild, Elizabeth, 
was born. John Hall was a successful physician who lived in Old 
Stratford and cured Mr Dray ton, 'an excellent poet', of a fever by an 
infusion of violets, and his wife who was 'miserably tormented with 
the collide', and daughter who 'was vexed with Tortura Or/V by 
what appear to have been more drastic methods. It seems probable 
that he had puritanical leanings, though even 'such as hated his 
religion' made use of his skill. 

In the same year, a plague year in London, Shakespeare's youngest 
brother Edmund was buried in St. Saviour's, Southwark, his funeral 
'with a forenoon knell of the great bell' costing twenty shillings, 
which Shakespeare may have paid. Edmund was only twenty-seven 
when he died, a London actor but apparently not one of the King's 
Men, and the father of the illegitimate Edward who died shortly 
before him. Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, died in 1608, and 
on September Qth was buried in Stratford churchyard. 


Shakespeare must have been a very tired man in 1608 after the 
prolonged strain of the spiritual throes that produced the poetry and 
characters of the tragedies, and it is possible, as Sir Edmund Chambers 
suggests, that Timon and not Coriolanus is the last of the series, an 
abortive birth indicative of a nervous breakdown. If so the celestial 
music of the recognition scene in Pericles, which probably came next, 
may be the equivalent of Beethoven's A minor quartet, a thanksgiving 
on his recovery from illness. It may be so, but we do not know. 

Nor do we know exactly when Shakespeare left London for 
Stratford. In 1599 he was living in Southwark in the Clink on the 
Bankside, and Malone claimed that 'he continued to reside in South- 
wark to the year 1608'. Unfortunately the evidence was never 
published, but there is a memorandum of September gth, 1609, by 
Thomas Greene, Shakespeare's 'cousin', fellow tithe-owner, and 
town clerk of Stratford, in which he says, with reference to some 
delay in the delivery of a house, f l was content to permytt it without 
contradiccion & the rather because I perceyued I mighte staye another 
yere at newe place'. We do not know how long Greene had been 
living at New Place, but he certainly suggests that he expects to be 
there until September 1610. He did in fact buy another house about 
May 1611. 


The years 1605-1609 were plague years in London, and it is 
reasonable to assume that Shakespeare, having worked out the tragic 
themes, seen his company occupy the Blackfriars theatre in the 
autumn of 1609, and having no acting ties to restrain him, would 
be anxious to escape from the plague to his house in Stratford and the 
companionship of his wife, daughters, and granddaughter. Possibly, 
therefore, he left London for Stratford sometime in 1610 or 1611, 
though we cannot be certain that he was there before May 1612, 
when in his deposition in the Belott-Mountjoy suit he described him- 
self as 'of Stratford vpon Aven in the Countye of Warwicke gentleman'. 

The plays that follow the tragedies, Pericles, Cymbeline, The 
Winter's Tale, and The Tempest, written between 1608 and 161 1, are 
all comedies, but very different from the sparkling comedies of the pre- 
tragic period. They are romances of estrangement and reconciliation, 
as though the comic spirit had been touched by the tragic, and trans- 
muted by the contact. It may be that Shakespeare was simply supply- 
ing the kind of play, the tragi-comedy, that was so popular at the 
court of James I and Anne of Denmark, and that was fully exploited 
by Beaumont and Fletcher. More probably it was the natural develop- 
ment of Shakespeare's genius which, after the tension and torment of 
the tragedies of character, turned with relief to the fantasy and pure 
poetry of romance. 

Perhaps flie inspiration came partly from Stratford and the sur- 
rounding countryside to which he was drawing ever closer, and it is 
not altogether fanciful to see in Marina, Imogen, Perdita, and 
Miranda the influence of his daughters and granddaughter; but it is 
possible to over-sentimentalise this final period and find only a 'grave 
serenity', 'a clear yet tender luminousness, not elsewhere to be found 
in his writings'. That there is this serenity, at least in The Tempest, 
and luminousness, cannot be denied, but it is not as simple as that. 
We tend to remember the restoration of Marina to Pericles, and the 
pastoral scenes of Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, but to forget the 
brothel at Mytilene, yellow lachimo, and 'the wretched fishing 
jealousies of Leontes'. What are we to make of Posthumus's speech? 

Is there no way for men to be, but women 
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards; 
And that most venerable man which I 
Did call my father, was I know not where 
When I was stamped; some coiner with his tools 
Made me a counterfeit; 

and of those of Leontes? 


And many a man there is, even at this present, 
Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm, 
And little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence 
And his pond fish'd by his next neighbour, by 
Sir Smile, his neighbour. 

This is the language of Othello and Lear and Timon, the violent 
revulsion from sex which is almost the main theme of many of the 
tragedies, and here, as in them, seems far to outstrip the dramatic 
occasion. It is as though the tragic passion were not quite played out 
but were carried over into the romances, and serenity achieved only 
in the last play, The Tempest. 

Shakespeare's retirement to Stratford did not mean a complete 
severance from London and the theatre. The Tempest, which he may 
have written at New Place, was for the King's Men, and he may have 
collaborated with Fletcher in 1612-13 in the writing of Henry Vlll 
and The Two Noble Kinsmen, though it is possible that Fletcher 
worked on material that Shakespeare left in London on his retirement 
at least it is difficult to believe that Shakespeare knew much about 
Fletcher's unwholesome contribution to the latter play. 

That Shakespeare's plays were popular is shown by the fact that 
in 1612-13, during the festivities in celebration of the marriage of 
James I's daughter Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine, John Heminge 
produced seven of them at Court: 

Item paid to John Heminges upon the Cowncells warrant dated att 
Whitehall xx die Maij 1613, for presentinge before the Princes High- 
nes the Lady Elizabeth and the Prince Pallatyne Elector fowerteene 
severall playes, viz: one playe called Pilaster, One other called the Knott 
of Fooles, One other Much Adoe abowte Nothinge, The Mayeds 
Tragedy, The Merye Dyvell of Edmonton, The Tempest, A Kinge 
and no Kinge, The Twins Tragedie, The Winters Tale, Sir John 
FalstafFe, The Moore of Venice, The Nobleman, Caesars Tragedye, 
And one other callee Love lyes a bleedinge, All which Playes weare 
played with-in the tyme of this Accompte, viz: paid the some of iiij** 
xiij 11 vj 8 viij d . 

Item paid to the said John Heminges vppon the lyke warrant, dated 
att Whitehall xx die Maij 1613, for presentinge sixe severall playes, 
viz: one playe called A badd beginininge makes a good endinge, One 
other called the Capteyne, One other the Alcumist, One other Cardenno, 
One other The Hotspur, And one other called Benedicte and Betteris, 
All played within the tyme of this Accompte viz: paid Fortie powndes. 
And by waye of his Majesties rewarde twentie powndes, In all be 11 . 

A few months later, on June 29th, the Globe theatre was burned 


to the ground 'while Burbage's company were acting the play of 
Henry VIIT. The most famous account is that of Sir Henry Wotton 
in a letter to Sir Edmund Bacon, quoted in full on p. 474: 

Now, King Henry making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, 
and certain chambers being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or 
other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, 
where being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more 
attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, 
consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds. 

The theatre was rebuilt in 1614 'in far finer manner than before', 
and it is this Jacobean Globe depicted in Visscher's view of 1616 that 
has come to be accepted as the typical Elizabethan public theatre. 

Shakespeare sometimes left Stratford for a visit to London, and it 
was there on May nth, 1612, that he made his deposition in the 
Belott v. Mountjoy lawsuit. Stephen Belott had been the apprentice 
of the tire-maker Christopher Mountjoy who lived in Silver St. just 
to the north of St. Paul's. In 1604 he married his master's daughter 
Mary, and in 1612 brought a suit accusing Mountjoy of failing to 
provide his daughter with a promised dowry of 60 and a further 200 
in his will. Joan Johnson, a maidservant of Mountjoy, deposed that 
Shakespeare, at Mountjoy's request, had helped to persuade Belott to 
marry Mary Mountjoy: 

And as she remembereth the defendant did send and perswade one Mr 
Shakespeare that lay in the house to perswade the plaintiff to the same 

Another deponent, Daniell Nicholas, stated that Belott asked him to 
go with his wife to Shakespeare 

to vnderstande the truthe howe muche and what the defendant did 
promise to bestowe on his daughter in marriadge with him the plaintiff, 
who did soe. And askinge Shakespeare thereof, he answered that he 
promissed yf the plaintiff would marrye with Marye his the defendantes 
onlye daughter, he the defendant would by his promise as he remembered 
geue the plaintiff with her in marriadge about the some of ffyftye 
poundes in money and certayne houshold stuffe. 

Shakespeare admitted his part in the persuasion, but could not 
remember what Mountjoy had promised to settle on Mary. 

William Shakespeare of Stratford vpon Aven in the Countye of War- 
wicke gentleman of the age of xlviij yeres or thereaboutes sworne and 
examined the daye and yere abouesaid deposeth & sayethe 


To the first interrogatory this deponent sayethe he knowethe the 
partyes plaintiff and defendant and hathe knowne them bothe as he now 
remembrethe for the space of tenne yeres or thereaboutes . . . 

To the third interrogatory this deponent sayethe . . . that the said 
deffendantes wyeffe did sollicitt and entreat this deponent to move and 
perswade the said complainant to effect the said marriadge, and accord- 
ingly this deponent did moue and perswade the complainant thervnto: 
And more to this interrogatorye he cannott depose. 

To the ffourth interrogatory this deponent, say th that the defendant 
promissed to geue the said complainant a porcion in marriadg with 
Marye his daughter, but what certain porcion he rememberethe not, 
nor when to be payed, nor knoweth that the defendant promissed the 
plaintiff twoe hundered poundes with his daughter Marye at the tyme 
of his decease . . . 

To the v th interrogatory this deponent sayth he can saye nothing 
touchinge any parte or poynte of the same interrogatory, for he knoweth 
not what implementes and necessaries of houshold stuffe the defendant 
gaue the plaintiff in marriadge with his daughter Marye. 

Willm Shaksp , 

From this it appears that Shakespeare had lodged with Mountjoy 
some time between 1602 when he first met him and November 1604 
when Belott married Mary. His evidence was not very helpful, but 
there seems no good reason why he should have remembered the details 
of an arrangement made some eight years before. Or it may be that 
he did not wish to be involved in the affairs of the Mountjoy family, 
who were described 'tous 2 pere & gendre desbauchez'; or, again, it 
is possible that his memory really was beginning to fail him. 

Shakespeare had always been interested in heraldry, and it was in 
London, presumably, that he helped Burbage, who was an amateur 
painter, to devise an 'impresa' for the Earl of Rutland to bear on his 
shield in the tournament at Whitehall on the anniversary of the 
King's accession on March 24th, 1613. An impresa was a heraldic 
device of Italian origin combining allegorical pictures and mottoes, 
and used to adorn not only shields but sometimes also furniture and 
plate. According to the account book of Rutland's steward, Shake- 
speare received 44*. for his design, and Burbage the same sum for 
painting it: 

Item, 31 Martii, to Mr Shakspeare in gold about my Lorde's im- 
preso, xliiij 8 ; to Richard Burbage for paynting and making yt, in gold 

It was during this visit to London that, on March loth, 1613, 
Shakespeare invested 140 in the purchase of a building that had once 


been the gate-house to the lodging of the Prior of Blackfriars, situated 
between St. Paul's and the present Blackfriars Bridge: 

This Indenture made the ten the day of Marche (1613) ... Between 
Henry Walker citizein and Minstrell of London of th'one partie; And 
William Shakespeare of Stratford Vpon Avon in the countie of Warwick 
gentleman, William Johnson, citizein and Vintener of London, John 
Jackson and John Hemmyng of London gentlemen, of th'other partie; 
Witnesseth that the said Henry Walker (for and in consideracion of the 
somme of one hundred and fortie poundes of lawfull money of England 
to him in hande before th'ensealing hereof by the said William Shake- 
speare well & trulie paid . . .) hath bargayned and soulde and by theis 
presentes doth fullie, cleerlie, and absolutlie bargayne and sell vnto the 
said William Shakespeare, William Johnson, John Jackson, and John 
Hemming, their heirs and assignes forever; All that dwelling house or 
Tenement with th'appurtenaunces situate and being within the Pre- 
cinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London . . . abut- 
ting vpon a streete leading down to Pudle wharfFe on the east part, right 
against the Kinges Majesties Wardrobe; part of which said Tenement 
is erected over a great gate leading to a capitall Mesuage . .; And also 
all that plott of ground on the west side of the same Tenement which 
was lately inclosed with boordes on two sides thereof by Anne Bacon 
widowe, soe farre and in such sorte as the same was inclosed by the said 
Anne Bacon, and not otherwise, and being on the thirde side inclosed 
with an^olde Brick wall; . . and also the soyle wherevppon the said 
Tenement standeth; And also the said Brick wall and boordes which do 
inclose the said plott of ground ... In witnesse whereof the said 
parties to theis Indentures interchaungablie have sett their scales. 
Yeoven the day and yeares first above written. 

William ShakspS Wm Johnsonn Jo: Jacksonn. 

The next day, March 1 1 th, Shakespeare mortgaged the house 
temporarily to the former owner for ^60, apparently as security 
against the payment of the balance of the purchase money: 

This Indenture made the eleaventh day of March . . : Witnesseth 
that the said William Shakespeare, William Johnson, John Jackson and 
John Hemmyng, have dimised, graunted and to ferme letten . . . vnto 
the said Henry Walker, All that dwelling house or Tenement, with 
th'appurtenaunces, situate and being within the precinct, circuit and 
compasse of the late Black Fryers, London . . . Yeelding and paying 
therefore ... a pepper corne at the feast of Easter yearlie, if the same 
bee lawfullie demaunded, and noe more. Prouided alwayes that if the 
said William Shakespeare, his heires, executours, administratours or 
assignes, or any of them, doe well and trulie paie or cause to bee paid to 


the said Henry Walker ... the some of threescore poundes of lawfull 
money of England in and vpon the nyne and twentith day of September 
next . . . That then and from thensforth this presente lease shall cease . 
Wm ShakspC, Wm Johnson, Jo: Jackson. 

As it was Shakespeare who paid the money for the house it is clear 
that Johnson, Jackson, and Heminge were acting merely as trustees; 
but the effect of this form of conveyance was, whether deliberately or 
not, to deprive his wife of her legal dower of a life interest in the 
property. Shakespeare signed both the deed of conveyance and of 
mortgage, and these two signatures, the three of his will, and that of 
his deposition in the Belott-Mountjoy suit form the only handwriting 
that we can be certain is his, though on them rests the greater part of 
the case in favour of his having written three pages of the manuscript 
play Sir Thomas More. 

Shakespeare was in London again in November 1614, apparently 
with his son-in-law John Hall, for Thomas Greene who was already 
there made a note of his arrival and of the ensuing interview: 

Jovis 17 No. At my Cosen Shakspeare commyng yesterday to towne 
I went to see him howe he did he told me that they assured him they 
ment to inclose no further then to gospell bushe & so vpp straight 
(leaving out part of the dyngles to the ffield) to the gate in Clopton 
hedge & take in Salisburyes peece: and that they meane in Aprill to 
servey the Land & then to gyve satisfaccion & not before & he & Mr 
Hall say they think there will be nothyng done at all. 

This is the Thomas Greene who was the town clerk of Stratford and 
living at New Place in 1609, though what his relationship was to 
Shakespeare that he should call him 'cosen' is not at all clear. The 
reason for his presence in London is clear enough, however. In the 
autumn of that year, 1614, two owners of land in the neighbourhood 
of Stratford, Arthur Mainwaring and William Replingham, set on 
foot proceedings for the enclosure of certain fields in Old Stratford 
and Welcombe. The Stratford Corporation, as the owners of tithes 
that were likely to fall in value if arable land were put down to grass, 
sent Greene to London to dissuade the promoters and to petition the 
Privy Council. He was at Stratford again in December, for on the 
i oth he wrote that the survey had already been made and that he had 
tried to find Replingham 'at the beare & at new place but myssed him 
& ... he was not to be spoken with'. On the 23rd the town council 
appealed to Mainwaring and Shakespeare, and Greene notes: 

Lettres wrytten one to Mr Manneryng another to Mr Shakspeare 
with almost all the companyes hands to eyther: I alsoe wrytte of myself 


to my Cosen Shakespeare the Coppyes of all our oathes made then 
alsoe a not of the Inconvenyences wold grow by the Inclosure. 

At about this time William Combe, who held land in Welcombe, 
joined the promoters of the scheme and in January set his men to 
begin the enclosure by digging a ditch, but was stopped by an order of 
the Warwick Assizes after some interference by the Stratford Cor- 
poration and the local inhabitants. Combe made further proposals but 
the Corporation continued its opposition and the enclosure was 
successfully stayed. 

It is difficult to say what was Shakespeare's attitude to the proposed 
enclosure. None of his estate in Old Stratford would have been 
affected, but like the Corporation he might have suffered loss by a fall 
in the value of his tithes. Against this, however, he had secured him- 
self by an agreement with Replingham on October 28th: 

The said William Replingham . . . doth covenaunte . . . with the said 
William Shackespeare . . . That he ... shall, uppon reasonable request, 
satisfie, content and make recompence unto him ... for all such losse, 
detriment and hinderance as he, the said William Shackespeare, his 
heires and assignes, and one Thomas Greene, gent., shall or maye be 
thought, in the viewe and judgement of foure indifferent persons ... to 
sustayne..or incurre for or in respecte or the decreasing of the yearlie 
value of the tythes they . . . doe joyntlie or seuerallie hold and enioy in 
the said fieldes ... by reason of anie inclosure or decaye of tyllage there 
ment and intended by the said William Replingham. 

Shakespeare could therefore view the affair disinterestedly. Enclosure 
of the open fields for arable purposes would mean better agriculture, 
but if, as was most probable, arable were converted into pasture it 
would mean unemployment and depopulation, and if common and 
waste were also enclosed it would mean further distress owing to the 
loss of grazing and other rights. The proposal was unpopular and no 
doubt inspired by selfish motives, but whether Shakespeare supported 
the conservative Corporation and the people or the enterprising Combe, 
who maintained that it would not harm the town, and indeed in 1616 
offered compensation for loss, it is difficult to say. But the Council's 
letters to Mainwaring and Shakespeare suggest that either he remained 
neutral in the matter or supported enclosure, though we cannot say 
for certain, as his correspondence with the Council has been lost. 

Wherever his sympathies lay there is no reason to think that he 
took a more active part in the enclosure controversy than he did in 
the affairs of the town. He was undoubtedly one of the leading bur- 


gesses of Stratford, and might, had he so wished, have been one of the 
leading members of the Corporation, but unlike his father he seems 
to have had no taste for local politics, and the few records that we have 
of his doings are of an unofficial though public-spirited nature. In 
September 161 1 he was one of seventy-two contributors 'towardes the 
charge of prosecutyng the Bill in parliament for the better Repayre of 
the highe waies and amendinge diuers defectes in the Statutes alredy 
made', and in 1614 he entertained on behalf of the Corporation a 
visiting preacher with 'one quart of sack and one quart of clarrett 
winne at the newe place'. 

His youngest brother Edmund had died in London in 1607, and 
soon after his retirement his two other brothers died in Stratford: 

1612, Feb. 3. B. Gilbert Shakspere, adolescens. 

1613, Feb. 4. B. Rich: Shakspeare. 

Gilbert was forty- five and Richard thirty-eight, and both appear to 
have been unmarried. Of Richard nothing more is known; Gilbert 
acted as agent for the poet when he bought the land from the Combes 
in 1602. The description 'adolescens' is a little puzzling, and it used 
to be thought that it was a reference to a son of Gilbert, and that 
Gilbert senior was the 'younger brother' described by Oldys 'who 
lived to a good old age' and went to see his 'brother Will' act in 
London. On the other hand, Capell in his version of the tradition is 
less precise and refers to the visitor from Stratford merely as a man 
'related to Shakespeare', and as there are no records of Gilbert's 
marriage or of the baptism of a son, and as he is not mentioned in 
Shakespeare's will, it seems certain that 'Gilbert Shakspere, adolescens' 
was the poet's bachelor brother. On April iyth, 1616, a week before 
his own death, his brother-in-law 'Will. Hartt, hatter', the husband of 
his only surviving sister Joan, was buried at Stratford. 

His daughters must have caused Shakespeare some anxiety at this 
time. In 1613 Susanna, a married woman of thirty, was accused by a 
certain John Lane of Stratford of having 'bin naught with Rafe 
Smith', a local hatter. In July she brought an action for slander against 
Lane, who failed to appear before the court at Worcester and was 
excommunicated. Then in 1616, just about the time of his death, his 
other daughter Judith was herself excommunicated. The Stratford 
register records the marriage on February loth of 'Tho Queeny tow 
Judith Shakspere'. As this took place within the prohibited period 
before Easter they should have obtained a special licence, but ap- 
parently they failed to do so, and were summoned before the ecclesias- 
tical court at Worcester and excommunicated. Thomas Quiney was 


the son of Richard Quiney, Shakespeare's friend and 'loveinge 
countreyman', and a Stratford wine merchant living at The Cage, a 
house in Bridge St. 

In January 1616 Shakespeare prepared the first draft of his will, 
which was considerably revised and signed by him on March 25th, 
apparently in some haste, for no fair copy was made. 

In the name of god Amen I William Shackspeare of Stratford vpon 
Avon in the countie of Warr gent in perfect health & memorie god be 
praysed doe make & Ordayne this my last will & testament in manner 
& forme followeing. That is to saye ffirst I Comend my Soule into the 
handes of god my Creator, hoping & assuredlie beleeving through 
thonelie merittes of Jesus Christe my Saviour to be made partaker of 
lyfe everlastinge, And my bodye to the Earth whereof yt ys made. 

Item I Gyve & bequeath vnto my daughter Judyth One Hundred 
and ffyftie poundes . . . One Hundred Poundes in discharge of her 
marriage porcion ... & fFyftie poundes Residewe thereof vpon her 
Surrendring of ... All her estate & Right ... in or to one Copiehold 
tenemente . . . being parcell or holden of the mannour of Rowington, 
vnto my daughter Susanna Hall . . . 

Item I Gyve and bequeath vnto my saied daughter Judith One 
Hundred & ffyftie Poundes more if shee or Anie issue of her bodie be 
Lyvinge att thend of three Yeares . . . And if she dye within the saied 
terme without issue of her bodye then my will ys & I doe gyve and 
bequeath One Hundred Poundes thereof to my Neece Elizabeth Hall 
& the ffiftie Poundes to be sett fourth by my execu tours during the lief 
of my Sister Johane Harte & the vse & profitt thereof Cominge shalbe 
payed to my saied Sister Jone, & after her deceas the saied I 11 shall 
Remaine Amongst the children of my saied Sister Equallie to be devided 
Amongst them. But if my saied daughter Judith be lyving att thend of 
the saied three Yeares or anie yssue of her bodye, then my will ys &s oe 
I devise & bequeath the saied Hundred and ffyftie poundes to be sett 
out by my executours & overseers for the best benefitt of her & her issue 
& the stock not to be paied vnto her soe long as she shalbe marryed & 
covert Baron, but my will ys that she shall have the consideracion 
yearelie paied vnto her during her lief & after her deceas the saied stock 
and consideracion to bee paied to her children if she have Anie & if not 
to her executours or assignes she Jyving the saied terme after my deceas. 
Provided that yf such husbond as she shall at thend of the saied three 
Yeares be marryed vnto or attaine after doe sufficientlie Assure vnto her 
& thissue of her bodie landes Awnswerable to the porcion by this my 
will gyven vnto her & to be adiudged soe by my executours & overseers 
then my will ys that the said cl u shalbe paied to such husbond as shall 
make such assurance to his owne vse. 

Item I gyve & bequeath vnto ny saied sister Jone xx" & all my wearing 
Apparrell. . . . And I doe will & devise vnto her the house with thap- 


purtenaunces in Stratford wherein she dwelleth for her naturall lief 
vnder the yearelie Rent of xij d . 

Item I gyve and bequeath Vnto her three sonns Welliam Harte 
[Thomas] Hart & Michaell Harte fFyve poundes A peece. . . . 

Item I gyve & bequeath vnto the saied Elizabeth Hall All my Plate 
(except my brod silver & gilt bole) . . . 

Item I gyve & bequeath vnto the Poore of Stratford aforesaid tenn 
poundes, to mr Thomas Combe 1 my Sword, to Thomas Russell Esquier 2 
fFyve poundes, & to ffrauncis Collins 3 of the Borough of Warr . . . gent 
thirteene poundes Sixe shillinges & Eight pence . . . 

Item I gyve and bequeath to Hamlett Sadler 4 xxvj* viij d to buy him 
A Ringe, to my godson William Walker 5 xx 8 in gold, to Anthonye 
Nashe 6 gent xxvj s viij d , & to Mr John Nashe 7 xxvj $ viij d , & to my 
fFelowes John Hemynge Richard Burbage & Henry Cundell xxvj 8 viij d 
A peece to buy them Ringes. 

Item I Gyve Will bequeath & Devise vnto my daughter Susanna 
Hall . . . All that Capitall Messuage or tenemente with thappurtenaunces 
in Stratford aforesaid Called the newe place wherein I nowe dwell & 
twoe messuages or tenementes with thappurtenaunces scituat lyeing & 
being in Henley streete within the borough of Stratford aforesaied, And 
all my barnes stables Orchardes gardens landes tenementes & heredita- 
mentes whatsoever . . . within . . . Stratford vpon Avon Oldstratford 
Bushopton & Welcombe . . . And alsoe All that Messuage . . . wherein 
one John Robinson dwelleth scituat ... in the blackfriers in London 
nere the Wardrobe, & all other my landes tenementes and heredita- 
mentes whatsoever; To Have & to hold All & singuler the saied premisses 
with their Appurtennaunces vnto the saied Susanna Hall for & during the 
terme of her naturall lief, & after her Deceas to the first sonne of her 
bodie lawfullie 'yssueing & to the heires Males of the bodie of the saied 
first Sonne lawfullie yssueing, & for defalt of such issue to the second 
Sonne . . . and to the heires Males ... & for defalt of such heires to 
the third Sonne . . . and the heires Males . . . And for defalt of such 
issue ... to the fFourth ffyfth sixte & Seaventh sonnes & to the heires 
Males . . . and for defalt of such issue the said premisses to be & Remaine 
to my sayed Neece Hall & the heires males of her bodie Lawfullie 
yssueing, and for defalt of issue to my daughter Judith & the heires 
Males of her bodie lawfullie yssueing, And for defalt of such issue to 
the Right heires of me the saied William Shackspere for ever. 

1 Thomas Combe: son of Thomas, nephew of John, the 'John o' Combe* of the 'extem- 
porary epitaph', and younger brother of William, the encloser. 
Thomas Russell: possibly a local landowner. 

Francis Collins: the Warwick solicitor who probably drafted the will. 
Hamlett (or Ham net) Sadler: with his wife Judith, probably godparents of Shakespeare's 
tw n children. 

William Walker: probably the son of Henry Walker, a Stratford mercer and alderman. 
7 Anthony and John Nash: father and uncle of Thomas Nash, the first husband of 
Shakespeare's granddaughter, Elizabeth Hall. 

&4 SHAfcfcfcPfeAfcfe ANb 

Item I gyve vnto my wief my second best bed with the furniture. 

Item I gyve & bequeath to my saied daughter Judith my broad 
silver gilt bole. 

All the Rest of my goodes chattels Leases plate Jewels & householde 
stufFe whatsoever, after my dettes and Legasies paied & my funerall 
expences discharged, I gyve devise & bequeath to my Sonne in Lawe 
John Hall gent & my daughter Susanna his wief whom I ordaine & 
make executours of this my Last will and testament. And I doe intreat 
& Appoint the saied Thomas Russell Esquier & ffrauncis Collins to be 
overseers hereof ... In witnesse whereof I have hereunto put my hand 
the daie & Yeare first aboue Written. 

By me William Shakspeare, 1 

Between the drafting of the will and its signing Judith had married 
Thomas Quiney, possibly also been excommunicated, and it may be 
significant that most of the alterations concern her portion, which is so 
carefully secured as to suggest that Shakespeare was uncertain about 
his new son-in-law. No doubt all his 'wearing ApparrelP, which he 
left to his sister Joan, was really intended for her husband William 
Hart who was, except for his cousin John Lambert, the only surviving 
near relation old enough to wear it, but he died between the signing of 
the will and Shakespeare's death. His wife Anne would receive her 
widow's dower of a third share for life in freehold estate, and possibly 
a similar share in personal property; the 'second-best bed' would have 
a high sentimental value. 

According to the inscription in his monument in Stratford church 
Shakespeare died on April 23rd, 1616, in his fifty-third year. Richard 
Davies, rector of Sapper ton at the end of the seventeenth century, 
laconically recorded that 'he dyed a papist'. It may be so, we cannot 
say, but there is nothing in his plays to suggest that he was a papist 
when he wrote them. He was buried near the north wall of the 
chancel in Stratford church, almost underneath his monument, on 
Thursday, April 25th, eight days after his brother-in-law: 

1616, Apr. 17. B. Will. Hartt, hatter. 
1616, Apr. 25.8. Will. Shakspere, gent. 

Seventy-eight years later one William Hall, a young Oxford 
graduate, wrote to a friend: 


I very greedily embraced this occasion of acquainting you with 
something which I found at Stratford upon Avon. That place I came 

1 There are three sheets to the will, the first of which is signed 'William Shaksoere' and the 
second 'WiUrn Shabpere'. F 


unto on Thursday night, and ye next day went to visit ye ashes of the 
Great Shakespear which lye interred in that Church. The verses which 
in his life-time he ordered to be cut upon his tomb-stone (for his Monu- 
ment have others) are those which follow; 

Reader, for Jesus's Sake forbear 
To dig the dust enclosed here: 
Blessed be he that Spares these Stones, 
And cursed be he that moves my bones. 1 

The little learning these verses contain, would be a very strong argument 
for ye want of it in the Author; did not they carry something in them 
which stands in need of a comment. There is in this Church a place 
which they call the bone-house, a repository for all bones they dig up; which 
are so many that they would load a great number of waggons. The Poet 
being willing to preserve his bones unmoved, lays a curse upon him that 
moves them; and haveing to do with Clarks and Sextons, for ye most 
part a very ignorant sort of people, he descends to ye meanest of their 
capacitys; and disrobes himself of that art, which none of his Co-tem- 
poraryes wore in greater perfection. Nor has the design mist of its 
effect; for lest they should not onely draw this curse upon themselvs, 
but also entail it upon their posterity, they have laid him full seventeen 
foot deep, deep enough to secure him. And so much for Stratford. 

We know little more of Shakespeare's last years than we know of 
the first; indeed, the last years are the most mysterious of all. From 
Chettle's 'Apology' we can form some idea of the upstart crow of 

my selfe haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exelent in the 
qualitie he professes: Besides, diuers of worship haue reported his up- 
rightnes of dealing, which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in 
writting, that aprooues his Art. 

And subsequent contemporary allusions, though many of them are 
literary rather than personal, all go to confirm the same attractive 
portrait. For Meres he was 'mellifluous and hony-tongued Shake- 
speare', for Barnfield and Weever again 'hony- flowing' and 'honie- 
tong'd', the anonymous author of Parnassus calls him 'sweete Mr. 

1 That Shakespeare wrote these verses was first claimed by Dowdall in 1693 after being 
shown the church by 'a clarke aboue 80 yrs old* (cf. p. 17). Hall misquotes; the verses on 
the stone read: 

Good frend for Icsus sake forbeare, 
To digg the dvst encloased hearel 
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, 
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones. 


Shakspeare ... a shrewd fellow indeed', Anthony Scoloker 'friendly 
Shakespeare', Webster talks of his 'right happy and copious industry', 
and Thomas Heywood again of 'mellifluous Shake-speare'. But the 
most important testimony comes from his intimate friends, his fellow- 
actors Heminge and Condell, and his fellow-dramatist Jonson. In 
their Prefaces to the First Folio Heminge and Condell wrote that they 
had collected the plays 

without ambition either of selfe-profit, or fame: onely to keepe the 
memory of so worthy a Friend, and Fellow aliue, as was our Shake- 
speare . . . Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most 
gentle expresser of it ... And so we leaue you to other of his Friends. 

One of these is Jonson, for whom he is 'gentle Shakespeare . . . sweet 
Swan of Auon', and 'my beloued the author'; and some years bter he 

I lov'd the man, and doe honour his memory, on this side Idolatry, as 
much as any. Hee was indeed honest, and of an open, and free nature: 
had an excellent Phant$ie\ brave notions, and gentle expressions. 

It is true that the only contemporary anecdote about Shakespeare, 
that recorded by John Manningham, does more credit to his wit than 
to his conjugal fidelity: 

13 March 1601 (O.S.) Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Rich. 3. 
there was a citizen greue soe farr in liking with him, that before shee 
went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by 
the name of Ri: the 3. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went 
before, was intertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then 
message being brought that Rich, the 3. was at the dore, Shakespeare 
caused returne to be made that William the Conquerour was before 
Rich, the 3. Shakespeare's name was William. 

On the other hand, Aubrey records the tradition 'the more to be ad- 
mired, he was not a company keeper, lived in Shoreditch, wouldnt be 
debauched, & if invited to writ he was in paine'. 

Rowe, in 1709, was the first to attempt a sketch of his character: 

Besides the advantages of his Wit, he was in himself a good-natur'd 
Man, of great sweetness in his Manners, and a most agreeable Com- 
panion , . . His exceeding Candour and good Nature must certainly 
have inclin'd all the gender Part of the World to love him, as the power 
of his Wit oblig'd the Men of the most delicate Knowledge and polite 
Learning to admire him . . . His pleasurable Wit, and good Nature, 



him in the Acquaintance, and entitled him to the Friendship of 
the Gentlemen of the Neighbourhood. 

The only reference to Shakespeare's appearance is that of Aubrey, 
about 1 68 1, from the testimony of William Beeston, the actor and 
son of Christopher Beeston: 'He was a handsome well-shap't man: 
very good company, and of a very readie and pleasant smooth Witt'. 

All this agrees with the fascinating reconstruction of Shakespeare's 
character and appearance made by Dr. Caroline Spurgeon from her 
analysis of the poet's unconscious self- revelation in his imagery. She 
finds him well-built, athletic, and healthy, quiet, with abnormally 
acute senses, particularly of hearing and taste. He was essentially a 
countryman, fond of animals, sport, and gardening, with a particular 
passion for horses and a game of bowls, clever with his hands and a 
good carpenter. 'For the rest of him, the inner man, five words sum 
up the essence of his quality and character as seen in his images 
sensitiveness, balance, courage, humour and wholesomeness.' 

The portraits of Shakespeare are not very helpful. There are two 
which we must accept as authentic representations, though not neces- 
sarily as good likenesses: the bust in the monument, and the engraving 
in the Folios. The bust was carved in Cotswold stone by Gerard 
Janssen before 1623, for the monument is mentioned by Digges in 
his verses in the First Folio, and must have been approved by Shake- 
speare's widow and by Dr. Hall, who is said to have commissioned it. 
The lack of detail in the carving was made good by colour, but in 1793 
Malone covered it with a coat of paint. In 1861 the present colours 
were put on. The fleshy face, goggling eyes, and perhaps over-healthy 
glow are scarcely suggestive of the author of The Tempest. 

The frontispiece of the First Folio, and of the three later Folios, is 
a copper engraving by Martin Droeshout, who was only fifteen when 
Shakespeare died. Presumably, therefore, it was engraved by the 
inexperienced and doubtless inexpensive young artist shortly before 
1623 fr m an original portrait, which there is reason to believe was 
simply a line drawing of the head depicting Shakespeare as a youngish 
man. It exists in two states, of the first of which or 'proof discovered 
by Halliwell-Phillipps there are only four copies, but though the first 
state is better than the last, of neither can it be said that the bulging 
forehead, stupid nose, and heavy jowl help us to visualise the poet. 

There are a number of paintings which have been claimed as 
originals of the Droeshout engraving, of which the 'Flower Portrait' 1 
at Stratford is the best known, or as authentic likenesses, such as the 

1 The Flower Portrait was almost certainly painted from the engraving. 


Chandos Portrait attributed to Richard Burbage, but the Janssen bust 
and the Droeshout engraving remain the only two portraits which we 
can be certain are attempted representations, however unsuccessful. 

Contemporary allusions are tantalisingly few; the re-creation of 
the man Shakespeare from the airy records of his imagination, from 
the expression of his unconscious mind, is inevitably an uncertain 
process; the portraits give little clue to his physical and none to his 
spiritual qualities, so we turn to his works and the conscious expression 
of his thought, for, said Rowe, 'The Character of the man is best seen 
in his Writings'. But is it? Of almost any other writer this would be 
true: of Chaucer, Milton, and Wordsworth for example, to mention 
three of the greatest names in our literature; or to take three of our 
greatest dramatists, it is true of Marlowe, Jonson, and Shaw. But 
Shakespeare is so impersonal, his identification of himself with his 
characters so complete and this, of course, is one of the chief sources 
of his greatness as a dramatist that we can never or rarely be sure 
that he is speaking non-dramatically, in his own person. That he had 
an almost divine understanding of and sympathy for man is certain; 
that he believed in the necessity of a stable and ordered political 
system, and that for a time the sexual aspect of life filled him with 
horror and loathing, we can be tolerably certain, but we can be sure of 
little else. 

Nevertheless, when we are reading his works we are sometimes 
conscious of more than a shadowy figure at our elbow; when we are 
reading the Sonnets^ perhaps, certainly when we are reading Hamlet or 
The Tempest^ we are conscious of a presence more real than that of 
living man. Here is the young man of twenty-seven: 

Alas, 'tis true I have gone here and there, 

And made myself a motley to the view, 

Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear, 

Made old offences of affections new; 

Most true it is that I have looked on truth 

Askance and strangely: but, by all above, 

These blenches gave my heart another youth, 

And worse essays proved thee my best of love. 

Here the man of thirty-seven: 

Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly 
on the tongue: but if you mouth it, as many of your players do, I had 
as lief the town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much 
with your hand, thus; but use all gently; for in the very torrent, tempest, 
and, as I may say, whirlwind of your passion, you must acquire and beget 


a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul 
to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to 
very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings, who, for the most part, 
are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise: I would 
have such a fellow whipped for o'erdoing Termagant; it out-herods 
Herod: pray you, avoid it. 

And here the man of forty-seven: 

But this rough magic 
I here abjure; and, when I have required 
Some heavenly music, which even now I do, 
To work mine end upon their senses that 
This airy charm is for, I'll break my staff, 
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, 
And deeper than did ever plummet sound 
I'll drown my book. 

But Shakespeare lived another five years after writing The Tempest^ 
time enough for another five plays, and all that remain are his parts in 
Henry VIII and The Two Noble Kinsmen^ if he really did write them 
after The Tempest. What, then, are we to make of the last years, the 
years of silence? We catch glimpses of an insubstantial figure buying a 
house in Blackfriars, acting as god-father to William Walker, attend- 
ing marriages and funerals, making his will, and that is all. Why did 
the most creative of all men at the age of forty-seven lay down his pen 
and say 'I have done; I will write no more'? How could he? We can- 
not treat seriously Rowe's cosy suggestion 'that the latter part of his 
life was spent, as all men of good sense will wish theirs to be, in ease, 
retirement, and the conversation of his friends'. It is inconceivable 
that Shakespeare, first-rate business-man though he was, wrote with 
his eye on the main chance: 

For gain not glory winged his roving flight, 
And grew immortal in his own despite, 

that 'his literary attainments and successes were chiefly valued as 
serving the prosaic end of providing permanently for himself and his 
daughters, his highest ambition to restore among his fellow-townsmen 
the family repute which his father's misfortunes had imperilled'; that 
he made his pile, and then like any stockbroker retired to play the 
seventeenth-century equivalents of golf and bridge. 

We think of Keats's fear of death before his pen had gleaned his 
teeming brain, of the blind Milton dictating Paradise Lost for which 


he received ten pounds, of the deaf Beethoven composing his celestial 
last quartets and full of projects for a tenth symphony, of the crippled 
Michelangelo dying in his ninetieth year in the middle of vast schemes 
and responsibilities, of the aged Renoir painting up to the last with his 
brush strapped into position between his contorted finger and thumb, 
of Virgil, Dante, Bach, Goethe, Cezanne, and the other great creative 
spirits of the world, and there seems to be no parallel. Perhaps he did 
write something and it has been lost? Perhaps he turned again to his 
first love, to the pure poetry of the Sonnets and lyrics and there are 
indications in the later plays that he might well have done so and 
perhaps his puritanical son-in-law destroyed his work? Or perhaps in 
1 6 1 2 he was a very sick man? Who knows? But the man who wrote 
the Sonnets, Romeo and Juliet, Henry IV, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, 
King Lear, and The Tempest, though he might cease writing for the 
stage, could scarcely cease writing altogether and sink into what for 
him must have been the living death of a country gentleman pottering 
about his estate, unless he were too ill to think and too weak to write. 

That he was ill at the beginning of 1616 is suggested by the fact 
that on March 25th he signed, apparently in haste, the rough and 
much corrected draft of his will instead of a fair copy, while there is 
evidence of failing powers in the tremors of the signatures. It is just 
possible that as early as May 1612, when he made his deposition in the 
Mount] oy suif, his memory was failing. And in the Stratford records 
there are fewer references than we should expect to one of the leading 
and wealthiest citizens, an energetic and capable man of affairs. 

His death appears to have passed unnoticed; the eulogies begin with 
the introductory matter of the First Folio, but on the tablet beneath 
his effigy in Stratford church was cut: 

Ivdicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem: 
Terra tegit, popvlvs maeret, Olympvs habet. 

Stay Passenger, why goest thov by so fast? 
read if thov canst, whom enviovs Death hath plast, 
with in this monvment Shakspeare: with whome, 
qvick natvre dide: whose name doth deck ys Tombe, 
Far more than cost: sieh all, yt He hath writt, 
Leaves living art, bvt page, to serve his witt. 

Obiit afiodo 1616 
^Etatis 53 die 23 Apr. 

The later history of Shakespeare's family is again summarised in the 
register of Stratford church: 


1616, Nov. 23. C. Shaksper fillius Thomas Quyny gent. 

1617, May 8. B. Shakspere fillius Tho. Quyny, gent. 

1618, Feb. 9. C. Richard fillius Thomas Quince. 
1618, Nov. i. B. Micael filius to Jone Harte, widowe. 
1620, Jan. 23.0. Thomas filius to Thomas Queeney. 
1623, Aug. . 8. B. Mrs Shakspeare. 

1626, Apr. 22. M. Mr Thomas Nash to Mrs Elizabeth Hall. 

1634, Apr. 13. C. Thomas filius Thomae Hart. 

l &35> Nov. 26. B. Johannes Hall, medicus peritissimus. 

1636, Sept. 1 8. C. Georgius filius Tho: Hart. 

1639, J an ' 2 ^* B. Thomas filius Thomae Quiney. 

1639, Feb. 26. B. Richardus filius Tho: Quiney. 

1639, Mar. 29. B. Willielmus Hart. 

1646, Nov. 4. B. Joan Hart, widow. 

1647, Apr. 5. B. Thomas Nash, Gent. 
1649, J u ty J 6- B. Mrs Sussanna Hall, widow. 
1662, Feb. 9. B. Judith, vxor Thomas Quiney Gent. 

Shakespeare's father, John, died in 1601, his mother, Mary Arden, 
in 1608, and with the exception of his sister, Joan Hart, Shakespeare 
outlived all his brothers and sisters. His two eldest sisters, Joan (the 
first) and Margaret, had died in infancy, and Anne aged eight in 1 579. 
His brothers all died unmarried, Edmund in 1607, Gilbert in 1612, 
and Richard in 1613. Apart from the 'base-borne' Edward, son of 
Edmund, and Joan Hart's three sons, William, Thomas, and Michael, 
and her daughter Mary, all of whom save Thomas died young or 
unmarried, Shakespeare had no nephews and nieces. 

His wife, Anne Hathaway, died in August 1623 and was buried 
beside her husband, but not in the same grave, though it is said that 
she expressed a wish to lie there. There is a brass on the stone with the 

Heere lyeth interred the body of Anne wife 

of William Shakespeare who departed this life the 

6th day of Avgvst: 1623 being of the Age of 67 yeares. 

From her marriage in 1616 until 1652 his younger daughter 
Judith lived at The Cage in Bridge St. Her husband Thomas Quiney 
died sometime after 1655, but where we do not know. Judith died 
at Stratford in 1662, but the site of her grave is unknown. Their 
three sons, Shakespeare, Richard, and Thomas, all born after Shake- 
speare's death, died unmarried. 

His elder daughter, Mrs. Susanna Hall, lived at New Place where 
her husband, Dr. John Hall, died at the age of sixty in 1 635, and where 


in July 1 643, during the Civil War, Queen Henrietta Maria stayed 
two nights and was visited by Prince Rupert. She died in 1649 a g e( * 
sixty-six, and was buried next to her husband in the chancel of Strat- 
ford church, with the inscription on her stone: 

Witty above her sexe, but that's not all, 
Wise to salvation was good Mistris Hall, 
Something of Shakespeare was in that, but this 
Wholy of him with whom she's now in blisse. 

Susanna Hall's only child, Elizabeth, was the last of Shakespeare's 
descendants, for though she married twice she died childless. Her first 
husband was Thomas Nash of Stratford, who died at New Place in 
1647 an ^ was buried next to Shakespeare. In 1649 ^e married a 
widower, John Bernard of Abington in Northamptonshire, where they 
went to live after the Restoration when he was knighted. There she 
died in 1670, her husband being buried beside her in 1674. 

When Shakespeare's sister Joan Hart died in 1 646, the Henley St. 
house, the 'Birthplace', in which she had lived, reverted to Susanna 
Hall, and on her death in 1649 to Elizabeth, who also inherited New 
Place and all the property entailed by her grandfather in his will. 
Elizabeth, Lady Bernard, left both Henley St. houses to Thomas and 
George Hart, grandsons of Joan, and their descendants lived in the 
'Birthplace' until 1 806, the other half having been converted into an 
inn, The Maidenhead. After Sir John Bernard's death the remainder 
of Shakespeare's property was sold to Sir Edward Walker for 1,060, 
New Place reverting to the Clopton family, who had built it, through 
the marriage of his daughter to Sir Hugh Clopton, who rebuilt it. 
After his death it was bought by the Rev. Francis Gastrell, who 'to 
vex his neighbours' pulled it down in 1759, and with 'Gothic bar- 
barity' cut down the mulberry tree said to have been planted by 



THE first real English comedy was written about 1550, the first 
real tragedy about 1560; Shakespeare was born in 1564, and 
by 1 60 1 he had written Much jldo About Nothing and Twelfth 
Nighty Henry IV and Hamlet. These dates indicate the speed with 
which the English drama developed in the course of the second half 
of the sixteenth century from adolescence to full maturity. But as it is 
impossible fully to understand Shakespeare's plays in isolation, without, 
that is, relating them to the environment which was after all partly 
responsible for them, so it is, if not impossible, at least difficult to 
understand Elizabethan drama as a whole without some knowledge of 
the source from which it so suddenly sprang. 

The degenerate descendant of the Athenian drama, the Roman 
mime, disappeared in the seventh century, killed by the barbarian 
invasions, and though it is possible that the jongleurs and minstrels of 
the Dark and Middle Ages inherited some of its traditions, modern 
European drama had its origins in the Catholic Church, uninfluenced 
by classical models. The first appearance of dramatic dialogue in the 
liturgy was in the ninth century at the celebration of Mass on Easter 
Day: two priests dressed in white robes as angels faced two other 
priests whose robes signified that they were women, and they chanted 

Quern yuteritis in sepu/chro, Christicol<e? 
If sum Naxarenum crucifixum> o c*elicol<f. 
Non esf hie: surrexit sicut prtedixerat; 
Ite, nuntiate fuia surrexit de sefulchro. 

Whom do you seek in the sepulchre, O Christian women? 
Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, O heavenly ones. 
He is not here; he is risen as he foretold; 
Go, announce that he is risen from the grave. 

It was not long before elementary action was added to the dialogue, 
and by the end of the tenth century at the festivals of Easter and 
Christmas miniature religious dramas were enacted in the church by 
priests who chanted in Latin. The inevitable elaboration of the plays 
and the extension of their subject-matter made them too complex for 



performance inside the church, so they were moved first into the 
churchyard and thence into the market-place. When this happened 
the citizens, helped by the wandering jongleurs, took over the per- 
formance of the plays from the clergy and substituted their native 
dialect for the clerical Latin. After 1311, therefore, when the cele- 
bration of the Feast of Corpus Christ!, instituted in 1264, was en " 
joined by the Pope, the trade-gilds made the day, the Thursday after 
Trinity Sunday, their chief festival, and on it enacted their cycles of 
Mystery Plays. 

Mystery Plays 1 were dramatised versions of stories from the Old 
and New Testaments, and were arranged in 'cycles' covering the 
whole of the Bible story. Thus the first play in the York Cycle of 
1415 was the Creation performed by the Tanners, the last and 
forty-eighth the Crucifixion^ performed by the Mercers. Generally 
there was some attempt to suit the craft to the subject: for example, 
the Shipwrights performed the episode of 'God warning Noah to make 
an Ark of floatable wood', and the Vintners that of the miracle of 
turning water into wine. These plays are written in verse, crude, yet 
occasionally transfigured by flashes of real pathos and poetry, and 
sometimes relieved by comic scenes, such as the famous sheep-stealing 
incident in The Second Shepherd's Play of the Towneley Cycle. 

They were acted either on scaffolds erected in the street, or on a 
movable stage called a pageant, which was wheeled from station to 
station so that as many people as possible could see the sequence. 
There were three stories, from the top one of which angels could 
descend to the middle or main stage, below which was a curtained 
dressing-room which also served as Hell; but the actors might over- 
flow into the street as when 'Herod rages in the pageant and in the 
street also'. Judging by the accounts kept by the gilds it seems certain 
that within their limits the plays were elaborately produced: for in- 
stance, 7,5. id. was paid for 'Two and a half yards of buckram for the 
Holy Ghost's coat', and among the properties at one performance was 
'half a yard of Red Sea'; and gilds were liable to a fine if their per- 
formance was unsatisfactory. 

The fifteenth century with its love of allegory tended to make of 
the biblical characters personified abstractions such as Studious Desire, 
Sensual Appetite, Fellowship, and Good Deeds, and so the Morality 
Play, more moral than religious, developed out of the Mystery Play. 
The most famous of these Moralities is the late fifteenth-century play 
Everyman^ deservedly so, for apart from its literary merit as a whole it 

1 Miracle Plays, based on the lives of the Saints, were common in France, but never very 
common in England. The term Miracle Play is often used to signify either of these two kinds 
of Medieval drama. 


contains the first really great moment in English 1 drama when Beauty 
looks into Everyman's grave and refuses to accompany him: 

Everyman. For into this cave must I crepe, 

And torne to the erthe, and there slepe. 
Beaute. What in to this grave, alas! 
Everyman. Ye, there shall we consume, more and lesse! 
Beaute. And what, sholde I smoder here? 
Everyman. Ye, by my fayth, and never more appere! 

In this*worlde lyve no more we shall, 

But in heven before the hyest lord of all. 
Beaute. I crosse out all this! adewe by saynt Johan! 

I take my cappe in my lappe, and am gone. 
Everyman. What, Beaute, whyder wyll ye? 
Beaute. Peas! I am defe, I loke not behynde me, 

Nat and thou woldest gyve me all the golde in thy chest. 
Everyman. Alas! wherto may I truste? 

Beaute gothe fast awaye fro me. 

She promysed with me to lyve and dye. 

At the beginning of the sixteenth century came the Interlude, 
Driginally a comic episode played between two serious scenes, but the 
name was soon applied indiscriminately to Moralities as well and to 
my short dramatic performance. Its origins are uncertain, but it must 
have owed something to the traditional folk-plays like that of Saint 
George, and to the popular comic elements in the Mystery Plays; at 
the same time it is a development of the Morality, didactic rather than 
moral, and more important, written to be acted in the halls of large 
houses, often during a feast, by boys or by professional players. With 
The Four P'J, written about 1545, by John Heywood, we have 
reached the divide where religious and ethical drama is quite clearly 
passing over into secular comedy. The story is of how a Palmer, a 
Pardoner, a Pothecary, and a Pedlar compete as to who shall tell the 
biggest lie, and of how the prize is won by the Palmer, who maintains 
that he has never seen a woman out of temper. It is all rather childish, 
but it is important because it sets out to amuse rather than to instruct, 
and because the biblical characters of the Mysteries, allegorised in the 
Moralities, have re-emerged at the other end once again as individuals, 
but secularised. Although Mystery plays were performed until the 
end of Elizabeth's reign, by 1550 English drama was ready to burst 
from its medieval bondage and to flower in the fierce light of the 
Renaissance. But as yet it was unaffected by classical models. 

It was mainly, as was only to be expected, through the schools and 

1 Everyman is really a translation from the Dutch Elkerlijk. 


universities that the classical influence came to modify the native 
drama. There the New Learning had led to the study of Neo- 
Classical and Classical plays, particularly of the comedies of Plautus 
and Terence, and of the tragedies of Seneca. The boys of St. Paul's 
school had acted plays by Plautus and Terence as early as 1527, and 
the performance of these Latin plays became part of the regular 
curriculum at Eton, Westminster, and other schools. The importance 
that was attached to acting may be gauged from the fact that in 1 546 
students of Queen's College, Cambridge, who failed to take part in a 
play or to attend a performance once a year were liable to be sent 

By the middle of the sixteenth century, then, the position was this: 
the medieval Mysteries and Moralities were still popularly performed, 
but in addition there were the Interludes, crude secular farces with 
little or no plot and construction, performed by boys and by pro- 
fessional players in great men's houses; half-way between were 
chronicle history plays like Bale's King John (1547), an ^^ mixture 
of historical and abstract figures; and finally there were plays in Latin 
performed by schoolboys and by students at the university. It could 
not be long before the two were brought together: the vigorous but 
shapeless native interlude and the carefully constructed classical play. 

These native and classical elements were united about 1550, when 
Nicholas UdaH, the headmaster of Eton, wrote Ralph Roister Doister^ 
a comedy for performance perhaps by school-boys. Although Udall 
called it an interlude it is really the first modern English play, for it 
has a fully developed plot adapted from the Miles Gloriosus of Plautus, 
and is constructed on the classical model with acts and scenes. It is a 
medley, it is true, for though the minor characters are drawn from 
contempprary_ljfe^ Mathew Merygreelce is really the Vice of the 
Moralities, and Roister Doister is the Pyrgopolinices of Plautus. 
Again, it is classical in its observance of the unities,, medieval in its 
morality. Nevertheless, 'in Rotsier^Dotsier we emerge from medieval 
grotesqiiery and allegory into the clear light of actual life, into an 
agreeable atmosphere of urbanity and natural delineation.' 

In 1562 Thomas Sackville and Thomas Norton did for tragedy 
what Nicholas Udall had done for comedy some ten years earlier, for 
in that year they produced their play Gorboduc* a native theme injhe 
classical manner. This play, the first real tragedy in English, contains 
afl^or almost all, the elements of a Senecan tragedy: chorus, messengers 
instead of action, interminable declamations, stichomythia or line by 
line dialogue, and division into acts and scenes. Each act, however, is 
preceded by the non-classical device of a dumb-show, the allegorical 
character of which is accentuated by the music of appropriate instru-i 


ments; nor do the authors observe the unities of time and place, for 
their neglect of which they were reproached by Sir Philip Sidney: 
'GorboduCy which notwithstanding, as it is full of stately speeches and 
well sounding phrases, climbing to the height of Seneca his style, and 
as full of notable morality, which it doth most delightfully teach, and 
so obtain the very end of Poesy; yet in truth it is very defectious in the 
circumstances: which grieveth me, because it might not remain as an 
exact model of all Tragedies. Fot it is faulty; both ju Place and_Time, 
the two necessary companies of all corporal actions.' < TZfe^stjde_of 
this oldjjlay', writes Lamb, 'is stijl^nd^innbersome x like the jdresses 
of Ttsjjfuies. There may be flesK and blood underneath, but we cannot 
get at it.' Fortunately this static and didactic form of drama was not 
to 'remain as an exact model of all Tragedies', any more than Plautus 
and Terence were to become the models of English comedy. The 
importance of these classical models was that they showed English 
dramatists how to construct a play, but the creative spirit of the 
Elizabethans was too powerful to be fettered by pedantry, and when 
classical construction conflicted with Elizabethan exuberance their 
imperative expression overwhelmed all restraints and their poetry 
swamped the conventions. Gorboduc is of the greatest importance for 
another reason: itjjs the first English play to be written in blank verse, 
thejrehicle that was to be used with such miraculous effect a few years 

It may then be said that Shakespeare and the modern English 
drama were born almost at the same time, though the next important 
development had to wait until he had come of age and left Stratford 
for London. The years of Shakespeare's nonage coincided with the 
attempt to harness English drama to that of Rome, and English 
Senecan plays such as Jocasta and The Misfortunes of Arthur were 
acted at Court and at the universities; but bjMta.ngjdcLls of the eighties, 
when Shakespeare attained his majority, the native genius had asserted 
itself and Senejca and the Romans were servants, not masters. 

About the middle of the sixteenth century, players, some of whom 
had been retained by the nobility in their houses, began to travel in 
companies, and, though they did not neglect the provinces, they were 
naturally attracted to London, which under the Tudors was rapidly 
gaining in importance. There they would lodge at an inn, hire the 
inn-yard, which like Chaucer's Tabard was surrounded by a gallery, 
and in the afternoons perform their plays on a stage erected for the 
occasion. Sometimes they would buy an inn outright and convert it 
into a permanent theatre; but the first London theatre to be built was 
The Theatre in 1576. Owing to the opposition of the City authorities, 
with their puritanical horror of the stage and more rational fear of the 


Plague, all the early public theatres were built outside the City walls. 
Thus The Theatre and The Curtain were in Moorfields; The Rose, 
The Swan, The Globe and The Hope in Southwark; The Fortune 
just north of Cripplegate, and The Red Bull in St. John's St., 

In 1632 Edmund Howes, in his continuation of Stow's Survey of 
London (1598), wrote of the building of the Salisbury Court theatre 
in 1629: 

This is the i7th stage or common playhouse which hath been new made 
within the space of three score years within London and the suburbs; 
viz., 5 inns or common hostelries turned to playhouses, one cockpit, 
St. Pauls singing school, one in the Blackfriars, and one in the White- 
friars, which was built last of all in the year 1629. All the rest not named 
were erected only for common playhouses, besides the new-built bear 
garden [the Hope], which was built as well for plays and fencers' prizes 
as bull baiting; besides one in former times in Newington Butts. 

The inn yards used as playhouses seem generally to have been 
within the City, and the following are known to have been so used: 

The Cross Keys, and The Bell in Gracechurch Street. 
The Bell Savage on Ludgate Hill. 
The Bull in Bishopsgate Street within the walls. 
The Boar's Head in Eastcheap (?). 

The eight 'public' or 'open' theatres, built on the model of an inn 
yard, were all outside the jurisdiction of the City: 

The Theatre. 1576. Moorfields. Built by James Burba ge and John 
Brayne and used for other activities as well as plays. It 
was pulled down in 1598-9 and its timbers used for 
The Globe. 

The Curtain. 1 576. Moorfields. Used by various companies before 
1603 when it became the home of Queen Anne's 

The Rose. c. 1587. Bankside. Built by Philip Henslowe. In Feb. 
1 592 Lord Strange's Men were acting there. The home 
of the Admiral's Men. 

The Swan. c. 1594. Bankside. Built by Francis Langley. It was 
used for other activities than plays, but by Pembroke's 
Men in 1597-8, perhaps by the Chamberlain's in 1 596. 
It was drawn and described in the commonplace book of 
Arend van Buchell from a description of John de Witt 
who was in London about 1 596: 





There are in London four theatres of noteworthy beauty, which bear 
diverse names according to their diverse signs. In them a different 
action is daily presented to the people. The two finest of these are situ- 
ated to the southward beyond the Thames, named, from the signs they 
display, the Rose and the Swan. Two others are outside the city towards 
the north, and are approached 'per Episcopalem portem'; in the 
vernacular, 'Bishopsgate*. There is also a fifth, of dissimilar structure, 
devoted to beast-baiting, wherein many bears, bulls, and dogs of stupen- 
dous size are kept in separate dens and cages, which, being pitted against 
each other, afford men a most delightful spectacle. Of all the theatres, 
however, the largest and most distinguished is that whereof the sign is a 
swan (commonly called the Swan theatre), since it contains three 
thousand persons, and is built of a concrete of flintstones (which greatly 
abound in Britain) and supported by wooden columns, painted in such 
excellent imitation of marble that it might deceive even the most cun- 
ning. Since its form seems to approach that of a Roman structure, I have 
depicted it above. (Trans, from Latin 6y William Archer?) 

It seems unlikely, however, that The Swan was really made of flint- 
stone as all other theatres appear to have been made of wood, and an 
audience of three thousand must be a gross exaggeration. The drawing 
too is open to suspicion, as it shows a movable stage supporting the 
permanent superstructure. 

The Globe. 1 599. Bankside. Built by the Burbages, partly from the 
^ timbers of The Theatre. The headquarters of Shake- 

speare's company, the Chamberlain's and King's Men. 
Burned down in 1613 but rebuilt in 1614 and pulled 
down in 1644. The finest of the public theatres. 

The Fortune. 1600. North of Cripplegate. Built by Henslowe and 
Edward Alleyn. The contract for this building is pre- 
served in Henslowe's papers and shows that it was built 
of wood on a brick foundation, that it was square, 
80 feet outside and 5 5 feet inside, and that the stage was 
43 feet wide and projected half way (27$ feet) into 
the yard. The total cost was ^1320. It became the 
home of The Lord Admiral's Men. In 1621 it was 
burned and rebuilt in brick in 1623. 

The Red Bull. 1604. Clerkenwell. Built by Aaron Holland. In 1609 
the Queen's Men were authorised to act 'at their usual 
houses of the Curtain and the Red Bull'. Its appeal was 

The Hope. 1614. Bankside. Built by Henslowe. It had a movable 
stage, and after 1616 was used for bull- and bear* 
baiting and prize fights. 


The other playhouses mentioned by Howes, The Cockpit, 'St. 
Paul's singing school*, The Blackfriars, and the Whitefriars (rebuilt 
nearby as Salisbury Court in 1629), were all 'private' or 'closed' 

The chief characteristics of the Elizabethan 'public' theatre are 
well known. It was essentially a circular or rectangular building of 
wood with roofed galleries overlooking the open court which it en- 
closed. There were really three stages: the main or apron stage, with 
trap-doors, some five feet high and projecting into the court; at the 
back of the apron was an inner stage flanked by dressing- rooms, and 
above it was the gallery which served as an upper stage. Curtains 
could be drawn across the inner stage, and above the upper and over 
the apron stage was a canopy to protect the actors from the weather. 
Properties were such as could easily be got on and off the apron stage: 
tables, chairs, beds, trees, or even a wall; and there was no attempt to 
represent a scene by means of painted canvas. The scenery of the 
inner stage, which could be changed while the curtains were drawn, 
was probably a little more elaborate. Plays were performed by day- 
light, in the afternoon, and women's parts, it must be remembered, 
were played by boys, for no professional actresses were allowed on the 
stage before the Restoration. It is difficult to say how far the Eliza- 
bethan theatre modified the Elizabethan drama, or the drama the 
theatre, but it is certain that this simple staging was perfectly adapted 
to the rapid and fluid production that these violent Romantic plays 

In addition to these performances in the public theatres there were 
the private performances in the halls of the nobility, at the universities 
and at the Inns of Court, where the students produced their own plays 
but occasionally called in the professional companies, as on the famous 
occasion when The Comedy of Errors was acted at Gray's Inn at 
Christmas 1594. l But above all, there were the productions at the 
royal palaces, particularly at Christmas, when the Master of the 
Revels summoned the players to entertain Elizabeth or James and 
paid them ^10 for a performance. This Court patronage was finan- 
cially important to the players but even more important to the drama, 
for the popular plays broke down the pedantic Senecan tradition, and 
the Elizabethan drama became the expression of the nation as a whole, 
drawing its inspiration from cultured and vulgar alike. 

Besides the 'public' theatres there were the so-called 'private' 
theatres, the history of which is bound up with that of the Boys' 
Companies. The educational value that was attached to acting in the 
sixteenth century has already been indicated, and so we find in Henry 

1 See p. 351. 



VI IPs reign the Children of the Chapel Royal being trained as actors 
as well as singers, while the Boys of St. Paul's performed at Court the 
Interludes of John Heywood who himself produced them. Some of 
these boys were later organised into professional companies, and as 
they were able to act women's parts as well as the mixed companies 
of men and boys, and could offer more in the way of musical enter- 
tainment, they became formidable rivals of the adult players. In 1 584 
the Boys of St. Paul's acted Lyly's plays in the refectory of the dis- 
solved monastery at Blackfriars, and again until about 1590 in a 
similar hall near St. Paul's. Later they performed plays written for 
them by Chapman, Middleton, and Marston, but their company was 
disbanded soon after the accession of James I. The Children of the 
Chapel Royal had a longer history. They were performing at the 
Blackfriars theatre as early as 1576, then after an interval they acted 
plays by Jonson, Chapman and Marston, and it is to these children, 
the 'little eyases', that Shakespeare refers in Hamlet. In 1609 they 
moved to a theatre in Whitefriars and soon the competition of the 
Boys' Companies was at an end, and the King's Men took possession 
of the Blackfriars theatre. (See p. 43.) 

This theatre had been reconstructed in 15965 in 1608 Shakespeare 
and his fellow actors took over the lease, and here they performed their 
plays in the winter months when performances in the 'open' Globe 
must sometirries have been impossible. For the Blackfriars theatre was 
roofed in, and this was the essential difference between the 'public' 
and the 'private' theatres, which were public in the sense that anybody 
who cared to pay the higher price from sixpence to half a crown, as 
against a penny to a shilling in the 'public' theatres could attend. 
Originally the private theatres were halls like those in private houses, 
but then galleries were added and seats provided both in them and in 
the 'pit', the apron stage of the public theatre being preserved. At the 
same time the more select audiences, and the similarity of these private 
theatres to the halls of the royal palaces, great houses, and the Inns of 
Court, must have modified the method of production. For instance, 
the greater intimacy of a roofed-in theatre must have led to a quieter 
style of acting, the music given by the boys between the acts in their 
private theatre became a customary part of the performance, and it 
was inevitable that experiments should be made with the more 
elaborate staging employed at Court performances. But Elizabethan 
drama was too various, elusive, and vital to be shackled by the painted 
scenery of the Italian theatre, and plays continued to be staged in both 
types of theatre with the aid of little more than simple movable 
properties, expensive though not historical costume, and dialogue that 
indicated, or poetry that suggested, the scene. 


With the accession of James I, however, and the vogue of the 
masque as a form of entertainment at Court, the private theatres such 
as The Blackfriars, The Cockpit built in 1616 in Drury Lane, and 
Salisbury Court, which were better suited for expensive productions in 
the manner of Inigo Jones, adopted some of the devices of the Court 
stage, and Shakespeare's later plays, The Tempest in particular, show 
clearly the influence of the masque. But it was not until the time of 
Charles I and D'Avenant that spectacle began seriously to compete 
with the play in the public theatres, and it was not until 1661 that 
Pepys wrote in his Diary as something worthy of remark that he had 
been to see a performance of Hamlet , 'done with scenes'. 

The professional actors were organised in companies under the 
protection of the nobility. This patronage had become essential after 
the Act of 1572, which was really a part of the Tudor Poor Law, and 
an attempt to deal with the new problem of unemployment occasioned 
by the breakdown of the ordered life of the Middle Ages. According 
to the Act, therefore, all players who were not in the service of some 
noble were classed as rogues and vagabonds and liable to severe 

All ydle persones goinge about in any Countrey of the said Realme, 
having not Lord or Maister . . and all Fencers Bearewardes Comon 
Players in Enterludes and Minstrels, not belonging to any Baron of this 
Realme or towardes any other honorable Personage of greater Degree 
. . which . . shall wander abroade and have not Lycense of two 
Justices of the Peace at the leaste . . wher and in what Shier they shall 
happen to wander . . shalbee taken adjudged and deemed Roges 
Vacabondes and Sturdy Beggers. 

On her accession Elizabeth retained four interlude players, later 
increased to eight, as members of the royal household. Other pro- 
fessional companies, however, acted at Court, and there are records of 
performances by the servants of Lord Clinton, Lord Derby, Lord 
Charles Howard, the Earl of Warwick, and the Earl of Leicester. 

Leicester's Company was the most important of these, and from 
1572 to 1583 performed regularly at Court. James Burbage was a 
member, and when he built The Theatre in 1576 the company 
probably acted there until its reorganisation in 1583. In 1586-7 they 
were at Stratford, where it is just possible, though improbable, that 
Shakespeare joined them, but after Leicester's death in 1588 they 
probably combined with Lord Strange's Men. 

In 1583 the Queen's Company was formed under the patronage 
of Elizabeth, who ordered the Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, 


to select a number of players from other companies. According to 

There were twelve of the best chosen, and at the request of Sir Francis 
Walsingham, they were sworn the queenes servants and were allowed 
wages and liveries as groomes of the chamber . . . Among these twelve 
players were two rare men, viz., Robert Wilson, for a quicke, delicate, 
refined extemporall witt, and Richard Tarleton, for a wondrous plenti- 
full pleasant extemporall wit, he was the wonder of his tyme. 1 

Robert Wilson was one of Leicester's Men, and two other players of 
his company, John Laneham and William Johnson, were taken for 
the Queen's. When it is remembered that twelve actors was a large 
number for a company, the reason for the reorganisation of Leicester's 
Men in 1583 becomes apparent. 

The formation of the Queen's Company was only one symptom of 
the struggle between the Court and the puritanical City authorities, 
who were jealous for their ancient right of controlling public amuse- 
ments within their walls, and no doubt angry at the establishment of 
The Theatre and The Curtain just outside their jurisdiction. The 
antagonism of the Puritans can be judged from Histrio-Mastix^ The 
Players Scourge^ 1633, * n which Prynne protests 

that popular Stage-playes (the very Pompes of the Divell which we 
renounce in Baptisme, if we beleeve the Fathers) are sinfull, heathenish, 
lewde, ungodly Spectacles, and most pernicious Corruptions; con- 
demned in all ages, as intolerable Mischiefes to Churches, to Repub- 
lickes, to the manners, mindes, and soules of men. And that the Pro- 
fession of Play-poets, of Stage-players; together with the penning, 
acting, and frequenting of Stage-playes, are unlawfull, infamous and 
misbeseeming Christians. 

From 1583-91 the Queen's Men performed regularly at Court, but 
in 1592 their place was taken by Strange's Company to whom, among 
others, they sold plays in 1593, which suggests that they were in 
difficulties: The Taming of a Shrew ', Titus Andronicus^ The True 
Tragedy of Richard Duke of Tork^ and perhaps the old Hamlet. In 
1 594 they were with Sussex's Men at the Rose, but after that there is 
no record of them in London. No doubt the plague of 1593-4 and 
the greater attractions of the Admiral's and the Chamberlain's Men 
account for their disappearance. 

Philip Henslowe, the builder of the Rose, the Fortune, and the 
Hope, had an interest in the affairs of a number of companies, the 

1 Survey. 


most important of which was the Admiral's. This company, under 
the patronage of Lord Howard, in 1585 created Lord High Admiral, 
acted at Court in 1574 and again in 1585, at about which time 
Edward Alleyn and his, brother John left Worcester's Men to join 
them. At Christmas 1588-9 they were at Court and were paid 'for 
twoe Enterludes or playes, and for showing other feates of activity 
and tumblinge'. Later in the year they were at Cambridge, in 
November Very dutifullie obeyed' an order of the Lord Mayor of 
London 'in her Maiesties name to forbeare playinge', and at Christmas 
were again at Court, where they showed 'certen feates of activitie'. 
In 1589-90 they can be traced at Ipswich, Maidstone, Winchester, 
Marlborough, Gloucester, Coventry and Oxford. 

Until 1592 there is nothing to suggest that Henslowe was con- 
nected with the Admiral's Men, but in October of that year Edward 
Alleyn married his stepdaughter. Then followed two years of plague, 
of dissolution and reorganisation of companies, and of confusion and 
obscurity. In May 1593, f r instance, Alleyn, although described as 
a 'Servant to the Right Honourable Lord High Admiral', was 
authorised to travel with Lord Strange's Men, five of whom were 
named: William Kempe, Thomas Pope, John Hemminge, Augustine 
Phillips, and George Bryan. And for 1594 Henslowe recorded in 
his Diary: 

In the name of god Amen begininge at Newington my Lord Ad- 
meralle men & my Lorde Chamberlen men As fFolowethe 1594. 

June 3. Heaster & Asheweros viij s . 

4. the Jewe of Malta X s . 

5. Andronicous xij s . 

6. Cutlacke xj s . 

8. ne Bellendon xvij 8 . 

9. Hamlet viij 8 . 

10. Heaster V s . 

11. the Tamynge of A Shrowe ix 5 . 

12. Andronicous vij s . 

13. the Jewe iiij s . 

On June I5th, however, the Admiral's Men were settled at Hens- 
lowe's Rose, where the great Alleyn-Henslowe partnership was 
firmly established, Alleyn, the greatest actor of his time, playing the 
lead in Marlowe's plays. In their first full season at the Rose, from 
June 1594 to June 1595, they played The Jew of Malta, The 
Massacre of Paris, Tamburlaine, Parts I and 2, and Dr. Faustus 
fifty-one times altogether. In November 1600 they moved to the 
Fortune, and Henslowe employed other playwrights; between 1598 


and 1603 Chettle and his collaborators were responsible for 52 plays, 
and Dekker for 45. After 1603 the Admiral's Men became succes- 
sively Prince Henry's Servants, the Servants of the Palsgrave, and the 
Prince's Men, and continued to occupy the rebuilt Fortune until the 
closing of the theatres. 

The main rivals of the Admiral's were Lord Strange's Men, a 
company acting in the provinces from 1576 under the patronage of 
Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange. Their early history is obscure, but 
it seems probable that about 1590 James Burbage organised a com- 
bination of the rump of Leicester's Men playing at his Theatre and 
for whom he had secured the patronage of Lord Hunsdon, with Lord 
Strange's, for in 1593 Kempe, Bryan, and Pope, former members of 
Leicester's Company, were with them. This new Strange's Company 
acted six plays at Court in the winter of 1591-2, and until 1594 had 
some sort of connection with Henslowe and Alleyn, for from February 
to June 1592 they played for Henslowe at the Rose, on March 25th 
performing Henry /7, Part i ; then, when the theatres were closed in 
the summer on account of the plague and they toured the provinces, 
Alleyn was with them, at any rate in May 1593, when, although 
described as a Servant of the Admiral, he headed the list of Strange's 
Men. " 

It was while they were on tour, in September 1593, ^at Lord 
Strange succeeded to the title of Lord Derby, by which name the 
company was called until his death in April 1594. In June they 
secured the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, Lord 
Hunsdon, and when he died in July 1596, of his son George Carey, 
who became Lord Chamberlain in March 1597, when they resumed 
the title of the Chamberlain's Men which they had adopted in June 
1 594. The powerful patronage of the Lord Chamberlain seems to 
have established their prosperity, for from 1594 to the end of the 
reign they played regularly at Court and became independent of 
Henslowe and Alleyn. The first reference to Shakespeare as a 
member of the company occurs in the record of the Court perform- 
ance at Greenwich in 1594: 

Dec. 26, 27. William Kempe William Shakespeare & Richard Burbage 
seruantes to the Lord Chamberleyne. 

Marlowe was dead, and there was no immediate rival to the rising 
star of Shakespeare, whose free combination with Burbage and his 
fellows 1 under the patronage of the Lord Chamberlain proved even 

1 The Licence for the King's Men of 19 May 1603 mentioned 'Lawrence Fletcher, William 
Shakespeare, Richard Burbage, Augustyne Phillippes, lohn Heninges, Henrie Condell, 
William Sly, Robert Annyn, Richard Cowly'. 


stronger than that of Henslowe- Alleyn and their mercenaries, and the 
rest of their history is one of almost uninterrupted prosperity. Their 
home was at James Burbage's Theatre, though there was a connection 
with the Cross Keys Inn dating at least from 1589, when Lord 
Strange's Men disobeyed the Lord Mayor's order to forbear playing 
and 'in very Contemptuous manner went to the Crosse keys and 
played that afternoon'. In 1599 they built their new theatre, The 
Globe, out of the timbers of the old; in 1603 t " le 7 became the King's 
Servants and Grooms of the Chamber, and in 1608 they secured a 
private theatre, the Blackfriars, for their winter quarters. 

In the history of the Companies the most important are, to begin 
with, Leicester's and the Queen's, but after 1590 the Admiral's and 
the Strange-Chamberlain Company. There were many others, in 
many of which Henslowe had an interest: Sussex's and Pembroke's, 
for instance, and Worcester's, which in 1603 became Queen Anne's 
Servants, and in 1611 The Lady Elizabeth's Men signed a bond to 
Henslowe. Henslowe died in 1616, and Alleyn, who no longer took 
an active interest in affairs, in 1626. 

Most of the theatres were built as speculations by business men; 
thus James Burbage was financed by John Brayne; Francis Langley, 
who built The Swan, had no connection with acting; and Henslowe, 
an enterprising pawnbroker and dealer in slum property, owned The 
Rose, The Fortune, and The Hope. On the other hand, Richard and 
Cuthbert Burbage built The Globe and distributed half the shares 
among other members of the Company. The owners were called 
housekeepers, and generally received all or part of the money paid for 
admission to the galleries; Henslowe, for instance, never received less 
than half the galleries for his rent of The Rose. 

The actors were divided into sharers, who received 'the proffit 
arising from the dores' or the general charge for admission, and hired 
actors, musicians, and stage attendants, whom they paid. There was 
also the book-keeper or prompter, and the boys who appear to have 
been bound to sharers in return for training. Many of the Chamber- 
lain's Men, including Shakespeare, were both actor-sharers and house- 
keepers, but the actors of Henslowe's companies do not seem to have 
had any stake in the theatres. 

Henslowe acted as banker and manager of his companies and kept 
a hold on them and on the writers who supplied them with plays by 
his advances of money; for instance, 'Lent unto mr dickers and mr 
chettell the 26 of maye 1 599 in est of a Boocke called the tragede of 
Agamemnon the some of xxx '. In his own words, 'Should these 
fellowes Come out of my debt I should have noe rule with them'. 
Small wonder that in 1615 his company drew up a list of 'Articles of 


oppression against Mr Hinchlowe'. Although Henslowe prospered 
and his son-in-law Alleyn retired as Lord of the Manor of Dulwich, 
there is no indication that the members of their companies were as 
prosperous as the Chamberlain's Men, who managed their own affairs 
so well that they kept their organisation intact from 1594 to the 
closing of the theatres in 1642. 

Playwrights were sometimes attached permanently to a company, 
as were Shakespeare, Fletcher, and Thomas Heywood; sometimes, 
like Dekker and Chettle, they were engaged under contract for a 
period; others like Jonson preferred to remain independent. When a 
company bought a play it became their property and a valuable and 
jealously guarded part of the joint capital of the sharers. Robert 
Greene was accused of selling the same play to different companies, 
and no doubt it was not an uncommon practice. 

The history of the drama in the twenty years that succeeded the 
publication of Gorboduc in 1565 is obscure. That there was a great 
increase in the demand for dramatic entertainment is certain, and no 
doubt there was a corresponding increase in the supply, but the plays 
were ephemeral affairs, at best patched up and rewritten but rarely 
published, for it paid the actors to keep them to themselves, and few 
publishers would think of them as literature worth preserving. The 
few plays that we possess are mostly either Senecan imitations, like 
Gascoigne's Jocasta or Wilmot's Tancred and Gismund^ or, like 
Thomas Preston's Cambyses^ a compromise between an interlude and 
a classical play. Progress was disappointing, partly because dramatists 
were toying with the Senecan manner which was at odds with the 
swelling Elizabethan spirit, partly because a satisfactory medium had 
not yet been discovered. But suddenly, beginning in 1584, came a 
decade of startling advance, when Senecan rules were light-heartedly 
abandoned, and prose and blank verse were rapidly developed as 
dramatic mediums. 

The new impetus came from the Universities, and the group of 
dramatists who may be said fairly to have launched the Elizabethan 
drama were known as the University Wits, the most important 
members being Lyly> Peele, Greene, Kyd, and Marlowe. Of these 
the last three were deadTJy 1 594, Peele died in i5967and Lyly wrote 
nothing for the theatre after 1 590, so that after preparing the way for 
Shakespeare they left it clear and without an immediate rival to their 
great successor. 

John Lyly wrote his plays for the Children of the Chapel Royal 
and for the Children of St. Paul's; they are courtly and artificial 
comedies, written largely in the euphuistic language of which he was 
the creator, and though he had no great influence on the later drama, 


he rescued comedy from mere buffoonery, emphasised the importance 
of language rather than action, wrote some exquisite lyrics, and above 
all established prose as a possible vehicle for comedy. Endymion, 'a 
piece of theatrical confectionery suited to the precocious children', is 
his best play and one to which A Midsummer Night's Dream owes 

George Peele's greatest contribution to the drama was the develop- 
ment of blank verse, which by his lightness of touch and strain of real 
poetry he helped to free from the iambic rigidity of Gorboduc. His 
David and Bethsabe contains the well-known passage beginning: 

Now comes my lover tripping like the roe, 
And brings my longings tangled in her hair. 

Robert Greene is perhaps most famous or notorious for his 
attack on Shakespeare, 'the upstart crow', in his Groatsworth of Wit, 
written on his deathbed in 1 592. He too was a poet, though inferior 
to Marlowe whom he emulated, but he possessed a gift in which 
Marlowe was singularly lacking, a sense of humour. His romantic 
history of James IV has comic scenes as well as fairies, and his Friar 
Bacon and Friar Bungay, though nominally set in the thirteenth 
century, contains lively pictures of Elizabethan England, as does also 
the remarkable dramatic fable written in conjunction with Thomas 
Lodge, A Looking Glass for London and England, where the scene is 
meant to be Nineveh in the time of Jonah. The mixture of comedy, 
romance, and tragedy, of the contemporary with the historic, is 
typical of much Elizabethan drama, and gives it a breadth and fresh- 
ness that preserves it from the perils of pedantry. 

Thomas Kyd in his Spanish Tragedy (1588-9) showed what could 
be done with a contemporary theme. It is the archetype of the Eliza- 
bethan tragedy of revenge, a violent melodrama exploiting to the full 
the emotion of horror^ and with much of the more picturesque 
^raphernalia of Senecan tragedy, a play that was to influence, among 
others, Shakespeare, Tourneuf, and Webster. Indeed, in the scenes 
of Hieronimo's madness brought about by grief at the murder of his 
son, Lamb suspected the hand of Webster: 'they are full of that wild 
solemn preternatural cast of grief which bewilders us in the Duchess 
of Malfi\ Certainly such a passage as this, melodramatic though it is, 
is the language of great tragedy: 

Let the clouds scowl, make the moon dark, the stars extinct, the 
winds blowing, the bells tolling, the owls shrieking, the toads croaking, 
the minutes jarring, and the clock striking twelve. And then at last, sir, 


starting, behold a man hanging, and tottering, and tottering, as you 
know the wind will wave a man, and I with a trice to cut him down. 
And looking upon him by the advantage of my torch, find it to be my 
son Horatio. 

For fifty years The Spanish Tragedy remained one of the most 
popular of plays, but more important than Kyd was the dazzling 
genius Christopher Marlowe, born in the same year as Shakespeare 
and dying when Shakespeare had scarcely begun to make a name for 
himself. Like Shakespeare, Marlowe was a lyric poet turned dramatist, 
and though, except in Edward //, he was too impatient to bother 
about construction in his chaotic plays, he made blank verse a vehicle 
that carried triumphantly the towering passions of his tragic heroes. 
This perfection of dramatic poetry within the limits of the end-stopped 
fi_~was kj s g,.g atest: contribution to the drama. His characters, 
^aaiburlaine^ Barabas, Faustus, are terrifying in their confidence .in 
the foundations of human greatness and in their blind contempt /or 
Fortune that is ultimately to overwhelm them. But their passionate 
aspiration is static ancf unrelieved; only in Edward II does Marlowe 
achieve subtlety and a dramatic development of character. 

Such were the predecessors of Shakespeare whose art he inherited 
and in the next twenty years carried to such unbelievable heights. 
Perhaps no man was ever more fortunate than he in the time of his 
birth, for when he was thirty his potential rivals were dead or silent, 
and their gifts were at his feet. The influence of Lyly with his love 
of words is apparent in Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet , of 
Peele in the graceful verse of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, of 
Greene in the humour of his histories, of Kyd in the horrors of Titus 
Andronicus and the revenge of Hamlet ', of Marlowe in the intellectual 
arrogance of Richard ///, in the 'reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty' 
in Richard //, and in verse such as this: 

Let's whip these stragglers o'er the seas again, 

Lash hence these overweening rags of France, 

These famished beggars, weary of their lives, 

Who, but for dreaming on this fond exploit, 

For want of means, poor rats, had hanged themselves: 

If we be conquered, let men conquer us, 

And not these bastard Bretons, whom our fathers 

Have in their own lands beaten, bobbed, and thumped, 

And in record left them the heirs of shame. 

Perhaps it will be helpful to give a list of Shakespeare's predecessors, 
contemporaries, and successors, with the approximate dates of their 


lives, for many of them are very uncertain, and of the periods of their 
greatest productivity: 

Lyly 1554-1606 1584-1590 

Peek 1557-1596 1588-1593 

Greene 1558-1592 1587-1592 

Kyd 1558-1594 1588-1594 

Marlowe 1564-1593 1587-1593 

Shakespeare 1564-1616 1590-1611 

Chapman 1559-1634 1596-1613 

Middleton 1570-1627 1599-1612 

T. Heywood 1570-1641 1600-1638 

Jonson 1572-1637 I 59?- I ^33 

Dekker 1572-1632 1598-1630 

Marston 1575-1634 1599-1613 

Tourneur 1575-1626 1607-1613 

Fletcher 1579-1625 1607-1625 

Beaumont 1584-1616 1607-1614 

Webster 1580-1625 1612-1623 

Massinger 1583-1639 1620-1639 

P'ord 1585-1640 1620-1638 

Shirley 1596-1666 1626-1660 

Of Shakespeare's contemporaries Ben Jonson is certainly the best 
known, in more senses than one. He aruTShakespeare must have been 
on very intimate terms, though there is nothing to suggest that either 
had much influence on the other as a dramatist, Shakespeare being 
nine years the older man and Jonson too independent to borrow from 
another; possibly too, being 'built far higher in learning' he had some 
contempt for the work of a man who, as he confided to Drummond 
of Hawthornden, 'wanted art'. However, according to Fuller, 'many 
were the wit-combats betwixt him (Shakespeare) and Ben Jonson', 
and Shakespeare acted in the original performances of Jonson's first 
comedy and first tragedy, Every Man in his Humour 1 (1598), and 
Sejanus (1603). 

His taste for satire brought him into conflict with his contem- 
poraries, for he ridiculed Dekker and Marston in Cynthia's Revels 
(1600) and The Poetaster (1601), both of which plays were acted by 
the Children of the Chapel. Dekker replied in his Satiro-Mastix y 
Marston in What You Witt^ but by 1604 the three men seem to have 

1 It has been suggested that the portrait of Shakespeare in the First Folio with Jonson's 
verses on the opposite page shows him in the character of Old Knowcll in Every Man in bis 


been on the best of terms again. 1 Shakespeare appears to have been 
involved in the quarrel, for there is an interesting but obscure reference 
to him in the anonymous play, The Return from Parnassus^ Part //, 
performed at Cambridge in 1601: Will Kempe, the comic actor of 
the Chamberlain's Men, is supposed to be speaking: 

Few of the university men pen plays well, they smell too much of 
that writer Ovid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talk too much of 
Proserpina and Jupiter. Why here's our fellow Shakespeare puts them 
all down, ay and Ben Jonson too. O that Ben Jonson is a pestilent 
fellow, he brought up Horace giving the poets a pill, but our fellow 
Shakespeare hath given him a purge that made him bewray his credit. 

In The Poetaster Horace gives Crispinus (Marston) pills that make him 
vomit 'terrible windy words', but what was the purge that Shakespeare 
gave Jonson is not at all clear. 

Jonson's dramatic achievement is threefold: tragedy, comedy, 
masque. His two tragedies, Sejanus and Catiline^ cannot be said to 
want art, but they might be said to want nature. Carefully con- 
structed in the classical manner, yet not too strictly so, for as he con- 
fesses, they are lacking 'in the strict law of time, and a proper chorus', 
they are frankly aimed at 'the reader extraordinary', and though they 
have a monumental nobility they have too a ponderosity, pedantry 
almost, that checks our sympathy. They are 'solid but slow' and lack 
the 'quickness of wit and invention' of Shakespeare's Roman plays. 

In his creation of the 'comedy of humours' Jonson was a revolu- 
tionary. He explains what he means by 'humour': 

As when some one peculiar quality 
Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw 
All his affects, his spirits, and his powers, 
In their confluctions, all to run one way, 
This may be truly said to be a humour. 

Breaking away from the romantic comedy of Lyly and Shakespeare, 
with brutal realism and in 'language such as men do use', he depicted 

persons, such as comedy would choose, 
When she would show an image of the times, 
And sport with human follies, not with crimes. 

1 In 1604 Marston and Chapman were imprisoned for making uncomplimentary references 
to Jamei I't countrymen in their comedy Eastward Ho t and Jonson, who had a hand in the 
play, 'voluntarily imprisoned himself with them. 


Jonson's characters, however, are caricatures, personifications of Evil 
rather than evil-doers* he attacks the Vice itself, Marston attacks the 
vicious. Volpone^ Epicene^ and The Alchemist^ written at the height of 
his powers between 1605 and 1610, are among the great masterpieces 
of our literature. 

With the accession of James I Jonson turned his attention to the 
masque, which in collaboration with Inigo Jones he may be said to 
have invented and perfected, his Masque of Queens^ according to 
Swinburne, being 'the most splendid of all masques . . . one of the 
typically splendid monuments or trophies of English literature'. In 
later life he was the acknowledged literary dictator, surrounded by 
young writers whom he called his sons, and Poet Laureate in all but 
name. It was his ill luck to have been born at a time when he was 
overshadowed by a man even greater than he. 

George Chapman's fame, such as it is to-day, is reflected rather than 
direct. He is supposed to have been the rival poet of Shakespeare's 
Sonnets^ mentioned particularly in Sonnet 86 for 'the proud full sail 
of his great verse' and for 'his spirit, by spirits taught to write above a 
mortal pitch'. He is even better known as the inspirer of Keats's 
famous sonnet On First Looking Into Chapman 9 s Homer: 

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 

That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne; 
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene 

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold. 

Yet, as a poet, Chapman stands in no need of reflected glory: the 
thundering fourteeners of his translation of the Iliad still remain the 
best rendering of Homer into English verse: 

The host set forth, and poured his steel waves far out of the fleet, 
And as from air the frosty north wind blows a cold thick sleet 
That dazzles eyes, flakes after flakes incessantly descending; 
So thick, helms, curets, ashen darts, and round shields, never ending, 
Flowed from the navy's hollow womb. 

As a dramatist, however, Chapman suffers from obscurity and 
pedantry; his plots are confused and his characterisation is weak, and 
yet 'of all the English play-writers', says Lamb, 'Chapman perhaps 
approaches nearest to Shakespeare in the descriptive and didactic, in 
passages which are less purely dramatic. Dramatic imitation was not 
his talent. He could not go out of himself, as Shakespeare could shift 
at pleasure, to inform and animate other existences, but in himself he 
had an eye to perceive and a soul to embrace all forms. ... I have 


often thought that the vulgar misconception of Shakspeare, as of a 
wild irregular genius "in whom great faults are compensated by great 
beauties" would be really true, applied to Chapman.' His best comedy 
is All FOO/S, his most popular tragedy Bussy d'Ambois y of which, how- 
ever, Dryden wrote in a cruel passage: 

I have sometimes wondered, in the reading, what has become of those 
glaring colours which amazed me in Bussy tTAmbois upon the theatre; 
but when I had taken up what I supposed a fallen star, I found I had 
been cozened with a jelly; nothing but a cold, dull mass, which glittered 
no longer than it was shooting; a dwarfish thought, dressed up in gigantic 
words, repetition in abundance, looseness of expression, and gross hyper- 
boles; the sense of one line expanded prodigiously into ten; and to sum 
up all, uncorrect English, and a hideous mingle of false poetry and true 
nonsense; or, at best, a scantling of wit, which lay gasping for life, and 
groaning beneath a heap of rubbish. 

That is the classical verdict against the romantic. 

Marston and Middleton both worked with Chapman. Marston, 
like his own Malcontent, "gainst his fate repines and quarrels'; he is 
a misanthropist attacking the abuses and the people of his time. His 
comedy, such as What You Will and The Dutch Courtezan^ derives 
from Jonson, but his satire is more personal than Jonson's, and his 
plays link the comedy of humours with the Restoration comedy of 
Congreve anJ Wycherley. There is poetry in his tragedies, Antonio 
and Mellida and Sophonisba^ as well as vituperative rhetoric, but 
unlike his comedies they look back rather than forward, back to the 
melodrama and horrors of Kyd. 

There is something of Marston in Middleton, but Middleton's 
realism and satire go deeper: there is more moral purpose in them, for 
there is more humanity, though perhaps less poetry. A Chaste Maid 
in Cheapside is a realistic comedy of the seamy side of London life; his 
tragedy The Changeling has some of the best things in Elizabethan 
drama. The Witch is important for its relation to Macbeth^ where the 
speeches of Hecate are certainly spurious, and almost certainly inter- 
polated by Middleton. 

On the other hand there is little of Marston in his colleague Dekker, 
who 'had poetry enough for anything', and a kindliness and charm, 
even in his satire, which is a pleasant contrast to the arrogance of 
Jonson and the bitterness of Marston. But he was, as Voltaire might 
well have said of him with more justice than of Shakespeare, an 
irregular genius: his poetry is rarely sustained he is at his best in a 
lyric and his plots are often muddled. The Shoemaker** Holiday is 
good-humoured realistic comedy, Satiro-Mastix is good-humoured 


satire, and he must have chuckled as he drew Jonson as Horace toiling 
ponderously with a trifle: 

O me thy priest inspire, 

For I to thee and thine immortal name, 

In sacred raptures flowing, flowing swimming, swimming: 

In sacred raptures swimming, 

Immortal name, game, dame, tame, lame, lame, lame, 

hath, shame, proclaim, oh? 

In sacred raptures flowing, will proclaim, not 

O me thy priest inspire! 

For I to thee and thine immortal name, 

In flowing numbers filled with sprite and flame, 

(Good, Good!) In flowing numbers filled with sprite and flame. 

The romance of Old Fortunatus is often pure Marlowe: 

Wish but for Beauty, and within thine eyes 
Two naked Cupids amorously shall swim, 
And on thy cheeks I'll mix such white and red, 
That Jove shall turn away young Ganymede, 
And with immortal arms shall circle thee. 

But his masterpiece is The Honest ffhore y of which Hazlitt wrote in 
the enthusiasm of discovery: 

Old honest Dekker's Signior Orlando Friscobaldo I shall never for- 
get! I became only of kte acquainted with this last-mentioned worthy 
character! but the bargain between us is, I trust, for life. . . . Simplicity 
and extravagance of style, homeliness and quaintness, tragedy and 
comedy, interchangeably set their hands and seals to this admirable 
production. We find the simplicity of prose with the graces of poetry. 
^ The stalk grows out of the ground; but the flowers spread their flaunting 
leaves in the air. 

Thomas Hey wood is as engaging and loveable as Dekker, and as 
industrious as he is modest. His preface to The English Traveller is 
worth quoting both for the light that it throws on him and on the 
contemporary drama: 

This tragi-comedy (being one reserved amongst 220 in which I had 
either an entire hand or at the least a main finger) coming accidentally 
to the press, and I having intelligence thereof, thought it not fit that it 
should pass as ///its populi, a bastard without a father to acknowledge it: 
true it is that my plays are not exposed to the world in volumes, to bear 


the title of works (as others 1 ): one reason is, that many of them by 
shifting and change of companies have been negligently lost. Others 
of them are still retained in the hands of some actors, who think it 
against their peculiar profit to have them come in print, and a third 
that it never was any great ambition in me to be in this kind volu- 
minously read. All that I have further to say at this time is only this: 
censure I entreat as favourably as it is exposed to thy view freely. 
Ever studious of thy pleasure and profit, 


But of these 220 plays only one, A Woman Killed IVith Kindness^ 'the 
first bourgeois tragedy of our Elizabethan literature', is remembered. 
It was with reference to this play that Lamb made his famous com- 

Hey wood is a sort of prose Shakspeare. His scenes are to the full as 
natural and affecting. But we miss the Poet y that which in Shakspeare 
always appears out and above the surface of the nature. Heywood's 
characters, his country gentlemen, etc. are exactly what we see (but of 
the best kind of what we see) in life. Shakspeare makes us believe, while 
we are among his lovely creations, that they are nothing but what we 
are familiar with, as in dreams new things seem old: but we awake, and 
sigh for the difference. 

Heywood "began writing for the theatre at about the time that 
Shakespeare was entering his tragic period; Beaumont, Fletcher, and 
Tourneur came into the field when he was emerging from the pity 
and terror of Othello^ Timon y Lear^ and Macbeth^ and when James I 
had been on the throne for four years. The pleasure-loving Court of 
James and Anne of Denmark demanded spectacle and romance 5 the 
former was supplied by the masque the Queen's masque at the 
Christmas of 1604 cost j3> an d tne costumes were those of 
courtezans rather than of Court ladies and the latter was as liberally 
supplied by Beaumont and Fletcher. These two dramatists have an 
astonishing facility and inventiveness, and a lyric gift of the highest 
order, but they are decadents. There is no tragic conflict in their 
tragedies, and their popular tragi-comedies are little more than senti- 
ment: they are soft and pretty, fibreless and effeminate when compared 
with the sincerity and manliness of their predecessors. They are 
adepts at tragedy without distress; like Bottom they have a device to 
make all well, they can aggravate their voices so that they can roar us 
as gently as any sucking dove, and it is easy to understand the long 
popularity of such plays as The Maid's Tragedy and Philaster y which 

1 I.e.) Ben Jonsoo. 


so skilfully deceive us into a belief that our passions are deeply stirred 
when they are but pleasantly tickled. In their hands, too, blank verse 
degenerates into a sweet surfeit of feminine endings: 

let all about me 

Tell that I am forsaken, do my face 
(If thou hadst ever feeling of a sorrow) 
Thus, thus, Antiphila, strive to make me look 
Like Sorrow's monument; and the trees about me, 
Let them be dry and leafless; let the rocks 
Groan with continual surges, and behind me 
Make all a desolation; look, look, wenches, 
A miserable life of this poor picture. 1 

'After all', Lamb remarks laconically, 'Beaumont and Fletcher were 
but an inferior sort of Shakespeares and Sidneys.' 

Tourneur and Webster, too, may be degenerate, but if so they are 
degenerate in another way; if they are morbid they are never sickly; 
like Donne they have an excess of the Jacobean preoccupation with 
death; like Romeo and Hamlet they are fascinated by physical decay, 
and their work reminds us of the solemn and triumphantly elaborate 
tombs and trophies of the period. They reverted to the Tragedy of 
Revenge, to the melodrama of Kyd and the crude villainies discarded 
by Shakespeare in Hamlet. Tourneur's plays, The Atheist's Tragedy 
and The Revenger's Tragedy^ are 'blood and thunder muddles', stuffed 
with unnatural vices but illuminated by dazzling flashes of poetry: 

Who'd sit at home in a neglected room, 
Dealing her short-lived beauty to the pictures? 

and Vendice's address to the skull of his betrothed 'dressed up in 

And now methinks I could e'en chide myself 
For doating on her beauty, though her death 
Shall be revenged after no common action. 
Does the silkworm expend her yellow labours 
For thee? For thee does she undo herself? 
Are lordships sold to maintain ladyships 
For the poor benefit of a bewildering minute? 

And what shall we say of Webster? 'A Madame Tussaud Laureate'? 

1 Note how the oathos is piled on by placing the caesura after an unstressed syllable: 
ftntktn, feeling^ Uajuts, surg**, desolation. 



His plays are chambers of horror indeed, but the figures are not wax- 

This is flesh and blood, sir; 
'Tis not the figure cut in alabaster 
Kneels at my husband's tomb. 

A laureate, yes. He is the nearest to Shakespeare of them all, and in 
The Duchess of Malfi he is his peer. The duchess is the greatest tragic 
heroine in our literature outside Shakespeare; but then, whom in 
Shakespeare can we match with her? 

What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut 

With diamonds? or to be smothered 

With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls? 

I know death hath ten thousand several doors 

For men to take their exits; and 'tis found 

They go on such strange geometrical hinges 

You may open them both ways; any way, for Heaven sake, 

So I were out of your whispering. Tell my brothers 

That I perceive death, now I am well awake, 

Best gift is they can give or I can take. 

I would fain put off my last woman's fault, 

I'd not be tedious to you. . . . 

PuH* and pull strongly, for your able strength 

Must pull down Heaven upon me: 

Yet stay; Heaven-gates are not so highly arched 

As princes' palaces; they that enter there 

Must go upon their knees. Come, violent death, 

Serve for mandragora to make me sleep! 

Go tell my brothers, when I am kid out, 

They then may feed in quiet. 

To move a horror skilfully, to touch a soul to the quick, to lay upon 
fear as much as it can bear, to wean and weary a life till it is ready to 
drop, and then step in with mortal instruments to take its last forfeit; 
this only a Webster can do. Writers of an inferior genius may 'upon 
horror's head horrors accumulate', but they cannot do this. They mis- 
take quantity for quality, they 'terrify babes with painted devils', but 
they know not how a soul is capable of being moved; their terrors want 
dignity, their affrightments are without decorum. 1 

After Webster the drama forgets the bright speed it had in the 
cradling heights of Marlowe and Shakespeare, and wanders sluggishly 
in the flats and valleys of Massinger, Ford, and Shirley. Not that 

1 Lamb: Specimens of English Dramatic Potts. 


there are not good things in these men: Massinger created the memor- 
able Sir Giles Overreach in A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Ford 
wrote TI'J Pity She's a Whore, and Shirley The Traitor and one of 
our most famous lyrics, 'The glories of our blood and state'. But the 
initial impetus has spent itself, inspiration has become imitation, the 
drama has become literary, the current turns on itself and sinks in the 
sand. 'Shirley claims a place amongst the worthies of this period, not 
so much for any transcendent genius in himself, as that he was the last 
of a great race, all of whom spoke nearly the same language, and had 
a set of moral feelings and notions in common. A new language and 
quite a new turn of tragic and comic interest came in with the 
Restoration.' 1 

Shakespeare was never averse from borrowing anything that he 
thought worth while and that suited his purpose at the moment; his 
greatness does not lie in his originality it is well known that he 
rarely invented a plot; but it was always the matter, the raw material, 
that he borrowed, never the manner; the transmutation, the fashioning 
of the work of art was his own. His early masters, it is true, were 
Lyly, Peele, Greene, Kyd, Marlowe, but he did not imitate them, and 
he soon outgrew them. From Jonson, the greatest of his contem- 
poraries, he received little save perhaps a greater respect for form and 
precision, and the general stimulus of a brother dramatist of genius. 
Nor did Jonson receive anything more from Shakespeare: their 
minds, their methods, and objectives were so different. Shakespeare 
never attempted the comedy of humours: Jaques in As You Like It is 
his nearest approach to a 'humorous' character, and Nym makes 
fun of the whole business. Nor does he engage in the bitter satire 
of Jonson, or the savage realism of Marston, or the indignation of 
Middleton. He has the humorous tolerance of Chaucer, and his rare 
satire is gentle and humane: Holofernes, Bottom, Dogberry, Justice 
Shallow, Malvolio, are all treated with compassion, and here perhaps 
he is closest to Dekker. His only 'domestic' play is The Merry Wives 
of Windsor, and for this he owes nothing to Hey wood's A Woman 
Killed With Kindness. Nor did the cloudy metaphysics of Chapman 
attract him. 

We cannot say that Shakespeare's plays would have been what they 
are had he written in isolation: of course he was influenced by his 
contemporaries, and part of the fascination of reading them lies in the 
perception of resemblances, 2 of the inevitable give and take of a 

1 Lamb: Specimens of English Dramatic Poets. 

1 There are dangers in this. The siren voices of the disintegrators call from the rocks of 
resemblance, and it ii advisable to lash oneself firmly to the mast of the First Folio and trust 
to the navigation of Hemingc and Condell. 


number of men working in the same medium. But equally we cannot 
say that any one play of Shakespeare as a whole is deeply indebted to 
any one of his contemporaries. We may see in a character, Falstaff, 
for example, a trace of Jonson, or we may occasionally hear in his 
verse the music of another poet, as Lamb recognised Tourneur's inter- 
woven parentheses, but taken as a whole Shakespeare stands alone. 

There is one possible exception to this. The collaboration of 
Beaumont and Fletcher began in 1607-85 between 1608 and 1612 
Shakespeare wrote Pericles^ Cymbeline^ A Winter's Tale, and The 
Tempest^ and almost certainly worked with Fletcher, or at any rate 
had a hand in the romance of The Two Noble Kinsmen^ as well as in 
Henry VIII. Why did Shakespeare about the time of his retirement 
to Stratford turn to romance? Was it merely a natural evolution: the 
tragic vein played out, added to the influence of the Warwickshire 
countryside and family affection? Or was he exploiting the Courtly 
and popular demand for light entertainment? Or was he imitating 
Beaumont and Fletcher who certainly were? It is impossible to say, 
but it seems certain that after the spiritual and physical upheaval of a 
break with tragedy and with London Shakespeare would in any event 
turn to a new form, and here to hand was one that exactly suited his 
purpose. There was no imperative financial reason why he should 
supply a popular demand, but after all he was a King's Man whose 
plays were well known at Court, and masque and romance, where 
characterisation is relatively unimportant, were suitable mediums for 
the expression of his first love, poetry, to which he seemed to be 
returning; and what more natural than that he should make use of 

There seems, then, no good reason to believe that Shakespeare was 
directly influenced by Beaumont and Fletcher. About this time 
Jonson gave part of his attention to the masque, Middleton abandoned 
realism for romance, Beaumont and Fletcher rarely wrote anything 
else; and Shakespeare wrote romances because he had left the theatre 
and wanted to write poetry. Though there are superficial resem- 
blances between Phi/aster and Cymbeline, there is also a whole world 
of difference. 



IT will be helpful at the outset to divide Shakespeare's works into 
four well-defined chronological groups: first, his early work up to 
his prolonged visit to Stratford at the end of 1 596 ; second, the period 
of comedy and historical-comedy from 1597 to ^ e Essex rebellion at 
the beginning of 1601; third, up to the time of Shakespeare's per- 
manent settlement at Stratford about 1610, the decade of the two 
bitter comedies and of the great tragedies, including the historical 
Roman tragedies; lastly, the period of the romances written partly in 


I. 1590-1597. 

Venus & Adonis. 



II. 1597-1600. 

III. 1600-1609. 

IV. 1609-1612. 


C. of Errors. 
Two Gentlemen. 
L. L. Lost. 
M. N. Dream. 
T. of Shrew. 

M. of Venice. 
Merry Wives. 
Much Ado. 
As Y. L. It. 
1 2th Night. 

All's Well. 

M. for Measure. 

Winter's Tale. 


1 Hen. VI. 

2 Hen. VI. 

3 Hen. VI. 
Rich. III. 
Rich. II. 
K. John. 

1 Hen. IV. 

2 Hen. IV. 
Henry V. 

Julius Caesar. 
Ant. & Cleopatra. 

Henry VIII. 


Tit. Andronicus. 
Romeo & Juliet. 


Tr. & Cressida 







This division is instructive in many ways; it shows the young 
Shakespeare experimenting with many kinds of writing: in Titus 
Andronicus with\the 'Revenge' type of play popularised by Kyd; in 
i Henry PI possibly rewriting other men's work; collaborating, per- 
haps, in The Taming of the Shrew, and like Sidney and Spenser and 
everybody else with any pretensions to being a poet, composing a 
sonnet sequence; then leaving behind the models of Lyly and Greene, 
of Kyd and Marlowe, and rapidly evolving his own individual form 
and style until they emerge unmistakable and complete in the comedies 
and histories of the second period. It emphasises the concentration of 
the cynicism and tragedy in the opening years of the century, and of 
the romances in the final period. 

Speaking generally, we can say that the first period is one of 
rhyming verse, the second of prose, and the third and fourth of blank 
verse. This, of course, is a very sweeping generalisation and must be 
taken relatively, for two-thirds of the hundred thousand lines of the 
plays are in blank verse, and there is more blank verse than rhyme in 
the first period, and much blank verse in the second; but the proportion 
of rhyme is highest in the first, the proportion of prose highest in the 
second; in the third and fourth periods blank verse is dominant, until 
in The Winter's Taie, apart from the Chorus and lyrics, there is no 
rhyme at all. Obviously one way of helping to date the plays is by 
comparing thfe proportion of rhyming verse, blank verse, and prose: 
the less rhyme, the later the play. 

Indeed, the study of the development of Shakespeare's verse really 
began with the attempt to discover the order in which the plays were 
written. As early as 1758 Richard Roderick remarked on the large 
number of redundant final syllables in Henry Vlll\ then twenty years 
later Malone, in his Attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays 
attributed to Shakespeare were written y discovered that the frequency 
of rhyme and the infrequency of unstopped or run-on lines were 
indications of early work. But the serious study of metrical tests was 
not undertaken for another hundred years, when F. J. Furnivall 
founded the New Shakespeare Society, much of the early work of 
which was devoted to the subject. In 1874 F. G. Fleay published a 
table in the Transactions of the New Shakespeare Society showing for 
each play the total number of lines, the amount of prose, blank verse, 
rhyming pentameters, short line rhymes, songs, double endings, 
sonnets, and doggerel. Unfortunately the table was very inaccurate, 
and though he revised it, more reliable figures have been worked out 
on a percentage basis, notably by Professors Konig and Conrad. 

The following table, taken from Morton Luce's Handbook to 
Shakespeare 1 s ff^orks y is based partly on the work of Fleay and Konig. 


(The decimals should not be taken too seriously as they are deceptively 
suggestive of scientific precision when so much is the result of indi- 
vidual judgment.) Two or three typical plays from each period are 
included. The rhyme refers only to pentameter rhymes, excluding, 
that is, octosyllabic couplets, lyrics, and so on. Only in the second 
period does the amount of prose exceed the verse, while in the first 
there are three Histories with no prose at all. It is interesting to 
compare Richard II with Henry IP, Love's Labour's Lost with Much 
Ado, Romeo and ^Juliet with Antony and Cleopatra. 

(See also p. 496) 


Percentage of 

Total Pro<e. Blank 
Lines. Verse. 


' Rhyme. 








1086 579 

1028 62-2 





o 2107 

537 18-6 

I I'O 





21 I I 

486 17-2 







74 2'9 







40 S'2 






2490 8 1 2-7 



5, -6 




74 3'4 






2761 42 i 0-7 



77' 5 



1825 o o 




2068 458 

1458 2 O'l 




L. L. Lost 
Rich. II.. 
Rom. & Jul. 

2 Hen. IV 

Much Ado 

Hamlet . . 
Lear . . 
Ant. & Cleo. 

W's. Tale 

The percentage of rhyme is high in the plays of the early period 
because Shakespeare was still a poet rather than a dramatist, applying 
the rhyming poetry of Penus and Adonis and the Sonnets more orna- 
mentally than dramatically to the framework of his plays, for he had 
yet to learn how to make his poetry organic and functional, to make 
of poetry a means to the dramatic end, to make them indeed indis- 
tinguishable. He was, in short, still writing dramatic poetry rather 
than poetic drama. Consider, for example, the undramatic though 
beautiful rhyming verse in sonnet-form of Romeo's love-making: 

Romeo. If I profane with my un worthiest hand 

This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this, 
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand 
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. 


Juliet. Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, 

Which mannerly devotion shows in this; 
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, 

And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss. 
Romeo. Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too? 
Juliet. Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer. 
Romeo. O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; 

They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. 
Juliet. Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake. 
Romeo. Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. 

Compare this with love scenes in the later plays, Othello and Desde- 
mona, Antony and Cleopatra, Ferdinand and Miranda, and the 
difference is at once apparent. 

For certain effects Shakespeare used rhyme in all his plays: the 
lyrics, for instance, are as frequent in the later plays as in the earlier, 
and for the sake of contrast we have the rhyming verse of the Mouse- 
Trap scene in Hamlet, and of the Masque in The Tempest; and the 
last lines of the last play, Prospero's epilogue, are in rhyme. Again he 
uses the architectural device of definition, the defining of the units or 
members within the whole, clinching his scenes with a rhyming 
couplet, though this use of rhyme becomes rarer and rarer in the later 
plays until it disappears altogether. 

Shakespeare* uses prose mainly for comic scenes, particularly of 
course for the comic characters of low life, and this is as true of the last 
plays as of the first: from Launce, Costard, Bottom, Juliet's Nurse, 
through Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, Dogberry, Sir Toby Belch, to the 
Grave-diggers in Hamlet, the Porter in Macbeth, Autolycus, and 
Stephano. For the sake of dignity, contrast, and dramatic clarity the 
characters of the main plot usually talk in verse, those of the secondary 
plot in prose: thus Hero and Claudio, Henry IV, Lear (until he goes 
mad) and Cordelia, speak verse; Beatrice and Benedick, Falstaff, 
Gloucester and Edmund, often or always speak prose. Again, for the 
sake of contrast and dramatic accentuation of similar or parallel scenes 
one will be in prose, the other in verse: Benedick is gulled in prose, 
Beatrice in verse; Brutus speaks his funeral oration in prose, Mark 
Antony in verse. Then scenes depicting highly wrought states of 
mind and madness itself are generally written in prose: when Lady 
Macbeth walks in her sleep she talks prose, so does the mad Ophelia, 
and we can tell exactly when Lear's mind topples into madness by his 
change from verse to prose: "Hast thou given all to tKy two daughters? 
And art thou come to this?" he demands of Edgar when he suddenly 
appears from the hovel disguised as a madman. There are other uses 


of prose letters, for instance, are often in prose but its main use is 
for comic scenes, and it is not surprising, therefore, that the percentage 
of prose is so high in Shakespeare's second period, that of the comedies 
and historical-comedies. 

But blank verse was to be the great vehicle of Shakespeare's mature 
style, verse in which language and character, poetry and drama are one, 
in which the poetic means and the dramatic end are indistinguishable. 
But the secret was not to be won without a struggle, and it is possible 
to follow his progress in the manipulation of his medium, not only the 
imaginative development but also the more mechanical development 
with which we are at the moment primarily concerned, so that there 
is no mistaking the verse of, say, The Two Gentlemen of Verona for that 
of Twelfth Nighty or the verse of Julius Casar for that of Antony and 

It must be remembered that blank verse was a new medium for 
English poetry, introduced by the Earl of Surrey in the sixteenth 
century and first applied to the drama in King Gorboduc, a play written 
two or three years before Shakespeare was born. Here are a few lines 
from that tragedy, and they are typical of the rest: 

Your age in quiet shall the longer last, 
Your lasting age shall be their longer stay. 
For cares of kings, that rule as you have ruled, 
For public wealth, and not for private joy, 
Do haste man's life and hasten crooked age, 
With furrowed face, and with enfeebled limbs, 
To draw on creeping death a swifter pace. 

It will be observed that the structure of the verse is exceedingly 
regular: five iambic feet in every line, with the accent falling inexor- 
ably and with equal emphasis on every even-numbered syllable of the 
ten, a pause after the fourth syllable and another at the end of the line: 
that it is, in fact, intolerably wooden and monotonous. 

The man who breathed life into this dead verse was Marlowe, 
whose 'mighty line' was a triumphant vehicle for the rhetoric of his 
titanic figures; but its mightiness was not altogether a virtue: save 
occasionally it was too massy and inflexible, neither subtle nor sensitive 
enough to record the less extravagant emotions and the complexities of 

Perhaps Marlowe's most important contribution to the emancipa- 
tion of dramatic blank verse from its iambic shackles was the imposi- 
tion of a 'natural' rhythm on the artificial basic one, so imparting a 
contrapuntal effect to the verse by the interplay of the two. This he 


did by giving an additional emphasis to some of the stressed syllables, 
generally to three of them, so that though the verse is still essentially 
iambic the rhetorical stresses override the metrical ones: 

Black is the beauty of the brightest day; 
The golden ball of Heaven's eternal fire, 
That danced with glory on the silver waves, 
Now wants the fuel that inflamed his beams; 
And all with faintness, and for foul disgrace, 
He binds his temples with a frowning cloud, 
Ready to darken earth with endless night. 

Although Marlowe was born in the same year as Shakespeare, he 
died in 1593, tne vear * n which Shakespeare published Venus and 
Adonis, bequeathing the powerful instrument of his passion to be per- 
fected by his successors. Incidentally, Shakespeare was singularly 
fortunate in the date of his birth: the playwrights from whom he 
learned most and who would have been his rivals had they lived, all 
died at the beginning of his dramatic career: Greene in 1 592, Marlowe 
in 1593, Kyd in 1594. Lyly survived until 1606, but wrote little 
after 1590. 

Consider now a passage of Shakespeare's early blank verse: 
Clarence's description of his dream in Richard III: 

Lor$, Lord! methought what pain it was to drown! 
What dreadful noise of waters in mine ears! 
What ugly sights of death within mine eyes! 
Methought I saw a thousand fearful wrecks: 
Ten thousand men that fishes gnawed upon; 
Wedges of gold, great anchors, heaps of pearl, 
Inestimable stones, unvalued jewels, 
All scattered in the bottom of the sea. 

The first five lines are absolutely regular with their ten syllables and 
five iambic feet; there is a pause or caesura after the fourth syllable and 
another at the end of each line: the line indeed is the unit, each being 
complete in itself. The sixth line has an irregularity, the stress of the 
first foot being inverted in Wedges, while in the next line there is a 
redundant syllable, the unstressed final syllable or feminine ending of 
jewels. These are the only exceptions to the iambic regularity of the 
basic scheme, but what saves the verse from the monotony of Gorboduc 
we are considering not the poetry but the verse is the Marlowesque 
rhythm, the metre being overridden by a three-stressed rhetorical 
rhythm, generally in the first, third, and fifth feet, though somewhat 
mechanically it must be confessed: 


What tigly sights of d&th within mine tyesl 
Me thought I saw a th6usand fearful wrecks. 

Now compare this with a similar passage written some four or five 
years later in Henry IV Part 2, where King Henry invokes Sleep: 

O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile 
In loathsome beds, and leavest the kingly couch 
A watch-case or a common 'larum-bell? 
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast 
Seal up the ship-boy's eyes, and rock his brains 
In cradle of the rude imperious surge, 
And in the visitation of the winds, 
Who take the ruffian billows by the top, 
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them 
With deafening clamour in the slippery clouds, 
That, with the hurly, death itself awakes? 

The iambic pattern is still regular, with here and there an inverted 
foot, as in curling, or a redundant syllable, as in ruffian billows and 
slippery clouds, making an anapsest out of an iambus; but the immense 
advance in fluidity is at once apparent. Not only is the pause varied 
within the line, the line itself is no longer the unit but a group of lines, 
within which the words slip from the end of one line into the next like 
water from one pool into another: 

giddy mast 
Seal up, 

rock his brains 
In cradle, 

hanging them 
With deafening clamour. 

Compare this, again, with Macbeth 's speech written seven or eight 
years later still : 

But let the frame of things disjoint, both the worlds suffer, 

Ere we will eat our meal in fear, and sleep 

In the affliction of these terrible dreams 

That shake us nightly: better be with the dead, 

Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, 

Than on the torture of the mind to lie 

In restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave; 

After life's fitful fever he sleeps well; 


Treason has done his worst: nor steel, nor poison, 
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing, 
Can touch him further. 

Not even the group of lines is the unit now, for the sentences and 
clauses begin and end anywhere within the line, and the words do not 
so much glide over the end of the line as plunge into the profundity of 
the next. And the variations on the iambic theme! The shifting 
pauses, the inversions, the substituted feet, the subtle contrast of the 
feminine endings, and over all the unmistakable Shakespearean rhythm 
of the tragedies. Here we are approaching the frontiers, but in King 
Lear Shakespeare carried his verse to the final precipice beyond which 
lie mere wrecks of rhetoric: 

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! 

You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout 

Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks! 

You sulphurous and thought-executing fires, 

Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts, 

Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder, 

Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world! 

Crack nature's moulds, all germins spill at once 

That make ingrateful man! 

The serene and less spectacular verse of The Tempest attains this 
same freedom within its metrical restraints: 

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on; and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

Dramatic blank verse was brought to life by Marlowe, reached 
maturity with Shakespeare, and declined into senility with Fletcher. 
There are passages of Shakespeare's work in Henry ^7/7, but most of 
the play was undoubtedly written by Fletcher, whose sweet, enervated 
verse with its feminine endings and falling rhythms there is no mis- 


taking for the vigorous and virile verse of Shakespeare. The dying 
Queen Katharine is speaking: 

After my death I wish no other herald, 
No other speaker of my living actions, 
To keep mine honour from corruption, 
But such an honest chronicler as Griffith. 
Whom I most hated living, thou hast made me, 
With thy religious truth and modesty, 
Now in his ashes honour: peace be with him! 
Patience, be near me still; and set me lower: 
I have not long to trouble thee. Good Griffith, 
Cause the musicians play me that sad note 
I named my knell, whilst I sit meditating 
On that celestial harmony I go to. 

It is now possible to appreciate the significance of the last three 
columns in the table on p. 103, though it must be remembered that 
there are exceptions to the apparently simple and regular development 
of Shakespeare's verse: The Taming of the Shrew, for instance, has only 
8 % of run-on lines, and i Henry IV only 5 % of feminine endings. 
However the progression is regular enough to afford for most of the 
plays internal evidence that agrees with any external evidence of date. 

The feminine ending is the extra: or 'redundant' unstressed syllable 
at the end of a line, usually that of a disyllabic or polysyllabic word, but 
sometimes, and with increasing frequency, an unstressed mono- 
syllable. In the speech from The Tempest quoted above there are 
three examples of lines ending with unstressed final syllables: actors, 
vision, faded; in the Fletcher passage from Henry Vlll there are six: 
herald, actions, Griffith, lower, Griffith, meditating, and in addition 
three unstressed final monosyllables: made me, with him, go to. Nine 
feminine endings in twelve lines, or 75%! In the whole play the 
percentage is 47: 12% and 14% higher than The Tempest and A 
Winter** Tale respectively, themselves considerably higher than any 
other play. 

The number of run-on lines increases in something like the same 
proportion as the number of feminine endings; the passage from The 
Tempest has four examples, that from Henry Vlll only two. It is 
difficult to define precisely a run-on line, for the end of the line usually 
coincides with some break in the grammar, however slight: our little 
life ix rounded with a sleep; I sit meditating on that celestial harmony. 
Such a clear-cut example as and are melted into air is exceptional. 
When there is neither grammatical nor rhetorical break there can be 
no doubt; but when the two conflict it is best to let the ear decide and 


to count it as a run-on line if the natural speech rhythm flows from 
one line into another. This of course makes the test a subjective one, 
and there are bound to be discrepancies in estimates: in Love's Labour's 
Lost K6nig finds 8%, Hertzberg 4%; for The Tempest their figures 
are 35% an d 3 2 % respectively. 

Related to the run-on line are the so-called 'weak' and 'light' 
endings. The and of and are melted into air is an example of the 
former, a line ending with a conjunction or preposition; a light ending 
is one that ends, more indefinitely, with a pronoun, auxiliary, or some 
other word with a comparatively light stress, as in Leontes's remark- 
able speech : 

Though I am satisfied and need no more 
Than what I know, yet shall the oracle 
Give rest to the minds of others, such as he 
Whose ignorant credulity will not 
Come up to the truth. 

According to Professor Ingram there are in Hamlet 8 light and no 
weak endings; in Antony and Cleopatra, the longest play, 7 1 and 28 
respectively. The percentage of light and weak endings together runs 
from 3*5 in the latter play to 5*5 in The Winter's Tale, and to 7*2 in 
Shakespeare's part of Henry Vlll. In his part of The Two Noble 
Kinsmen there are 50 light and 34 weak endings, in Fletcher's 3 light 
and i weak; Shakespeare's run-on lines are I in 2, Fletcher's I in 5. 

If there is an increase in the number of run-on lines it must mean 
that there is a corresponding increase in the number of mid-line pauses, 
unless the length of the rhetorical unit be extended so that the sense 
runs on to the end of the next line. Actually it is an important charac- 
teristic of Shakespeare's verse that after the prose period of the comedies 
and histories it breaks into smaller units: the clauses are shorter and 
elliptical, the sense tight-packed, the phrases broken by interjections, 
giving greater vigour and realism to the dialogue. The run-on line 
and the shorter speech unit therefore both make for an increase in the 
mid-line pause, at first after the second or third foot, later after the 
first or fourth foot as well. Sir Edmund Chambers gives the following 
percentage figures for strong pauses within 'unsplit' lines, that is lines 
spoken all by one character: Love's Labour's Lost 14, 2 Henry IV 15, 
Hamlet 26, The Tempest 42. 

With the greater number of mid-line pauses we should expect an 
increase in the number of speeches that end within the line, which may 
either be left as a short line, or taken up and completed by the next 
speaker. The last column of the table shows the remarkable increase, 


King. That is to fee how decpc my graue it made, 
For with his foulc fled all my worldly folace : 
For fccihg him, I fee my life in death. 

War. As furcly as my fottle intends to Hue 
With that dread King that tookc our Rate vpon him, 
To free vs from hifFathers wrathfull curfe, 
I do bcleeue that violent hands were laid 
Vpon the life of this thrice-famed Duke. 

Suf. A drcadfull Oath* fworne with a folcrnn tongue: 
What inftance giucs Lord Warwicke for his vow* 

W*r. See how the blood is fetled in his face. 
Oft haue I feene a timely-parted Ghoft, 
Ofafhy femblance, meager, pale, andbloodiefie. 
Being^all defcended to the labouring heart, 
Who in the Conflict that it holds with death, 
Attrafts the fame for aydance 'gainft the enemy , 
Which with the heart there cooles, and ne'rc returnctb, 
To blufh and beautifie (be Cheese againc. 
But fee, his face is blacke, and full of blood : 
His eye-balles further out, than when be liued? 
Staring full gaftly, like a ftrangled man : 
His hay re vprear'd,his noftrils ftretcht with ftrugling : 
His hands abroad difplay*d s as one that grafpc 
And tugg'd for Life, and was by (trength fuodude. 
Looke on the (beets his haire (you fee) is flicking, 
His well proportioned Beard, made ruffe and rugged, 
Like to the Summers Come by Temped lodged ; 
It cannot be but be was rnurdred heere, 
The leaft of all thefe fignes were probable* 

S*f. Why Warwicke, who fliould do the death? 
My fclfeand Bta#firdh*d him in protection, 
And we I hope fir, are no murtherers. 

W*r. But both of you were vowed D, Humfries foci, 
And you (forfooth) had the good Duke to keepe: 
Tis like you would not feafi him like a friend, 
And 'tis well ieene, he found an eneaty. 

Q**n. Than you belike fufpeft thefe Noblemen, 
As guilty ofDukc Hw*f*i*t timelefle death. 

2 Henry PI. PART OF p. 134 of The Histories IN THE FIRST FOLIO. 


particularly after 1600, of speeches that end before the conclusion of 
the line, from 7 % in Richard II to 87 % in The Winter's Tale. It is 
interesting to note the difference merely in the appearance of the 
printed page: the unbroken narrative or epic appearance of the verse 
of Richard II and the broken, dramatic appearance of that of The 
Winter's Tale. It is almost possible to date a play simply by looking at it. 
The passages printed in chronological sequence at the end of this 
chapter are intended to illustrate the development of Shakespeare's 
verse as well as that of his poetry. 

It is easy enough to analyse and dissect verse, to lay bare the liga- 
ments that bind the parts, the muscles that give it motion, to expose 
the bone that determines its strength and stature, for verse is a patient 
that lies quietly enough on the critic's operating table. But it is another 
matter when it comes to analysing poetry, for here is a patient that 
cannot be etherised and pinned down: it is neither visible nor tangible; 
it can only be felt like the wind, or the heat from a fire, or the shock 
of an electric current; it is like trying to dissect a spirit, to analyse life 
itself; for poetry is a spirit, the life that informs the inert substance of 
verse, and indeed that informs all works of art. 

Verse is metrical writing; but how shall we define poetry? It has 
been called 'the best words in the best order'; 'that pleasurable emotion, 
that peculiar, state and degree of excitement, which arises in the poet 
himself in the act of composition'; 'the spontaneous overflow of power- 
ful feelings'; 'the record of the best and happiest moments of the 
happiest and best minds'; 'memorable speech'; 'great verse'. But such 
definitions are as evasive as the thing defined, and definition, the re- 
striction within certain limits, is almost as difficult as analysis, for 'this 
capricious and untamed flyer' is too elusive to be contained within the 
bounds of a definition. Perhaps it is not very important, for we learn 
what poetry is by reading it, and we recognise it by feeling it. 

It should, however, be possible to suggest why poetry has this power 
over us, why it can pierce us like a spear, and hale the souls out of our 
bodies. 'Tragedy', Aristotle tells us, 'is the imitation of an action'; 
and by imitation, mimesis^ he does not mean the exact reproduction of 
an action, like that recorded in a news-film, but a representation, an 
approximation only to reality, an ordered and stylised Greek tragedy 
was highly stylised version of a more or less chaotic original. He 
meant precisely what Cezanne meant when he said, 'I have not tried 
to reproduce Nature: I have represented it* \ or Mallarme, 'Ce n'est 
pas avec les idees qu'on fair les sonnets, Degas; c'est avec les mots'. 
Degas should have known better, for he himself had said, 'The ballet- 
girl is merely a pretext for the design.' 


All art is, in this sense, an imitation, a reproduction of, but not an 
equation with, some original; neither a photograph of daffodils, nor 
the daffodils themselves is a work of art, but Wordsworth's poem is. 
The photograph is an exact copy, or nearly so, of the original, the 
daffodils are the original itself; both stand single and are artistically 
impotent, but there is a duality about the poem, the relationship 
between the expression and the thing expressed, and this duality, or 
even multiplicity, is the essence of a work of art whatever the medium. 
The daffodils, and for that matter any subject under the sun, con- 
crete and abstract, mountains and memories, houses and love, are 
charged with an energy that is powerless in isolation and can only be 
released by contact with, or rather by a certain critical relationship 
with, the artist, who expresses this relationship in his poem, or painting, 
or music, or whatever medium he works in. This does not mean, of 
course, that Wordsworth's poem is more beautiful than the daffodils 
that he saw dancing beside the lake, or that art is preferable to nature; 
it simply means that they are not the same thing, and are not to be 
confused with one another. 

If on the one hand the subject of a work of art is artistically im- 
potent in isolation, so on the other is expression abstracted from a 
subject. If the essence of a work of art is its duality, its relation to a 
subject, abstract art is a contradiction in terms, for by definition it is 
expression from which has been abstracted all elements of representa- 
tion. Words, lines, notes, forms, without any mimetic significance, 
can no more be art than is a photograph or a daffodil. But most so- 
called abstract art is only an approximation, for it is almost impossible 
to produce any combination of lines or forms or sounds without some 
element of representation. James Joyce's prose is only an approxima- 

My hands are blawcauld between isker and suda like that piece of 
pattern chayney there lying below. Or where is it? Lying beside the 
sedge I saw it. Hoangho, my sorrow, I've lost it! Aimihi! With that 
turbary water who could see? So near and yet so far! But O, gihon! I 
lovat a gabber. I could listen to maure and moravar again. Regn onder 
river. Flies do your float. Thick is the life for mere. 

When abstraction reaches its logical conclusion, as in some of Mr. Ben 
Nicholson's recent painting, it runs into the precise and dispassionate 
territories of science, those antiseptic and thrilling regions of thick- 
ribbed ice where things have, or should have, but one meaning. 

The movement towards abstraction, 'towards the condition of 
music 9 , is, however, salutary, for it emphasises the importance of the 



expression, that is, of the work of art itself, and the relative unim- 
portance of the subject save as an original to which the poem or 
painting, music or sculpture, is related. For 'poetry is not the thing 
said, but a way of saying it', or rather it is the way of saying it in rela- 
tion to the thing said. Better, one is almost tempted to say, a geometrical 
drawing than the 'accurate representation of what the grocer thinks 
he sees'. 

All art is an imitation; but an imitation of what? Tragedy is an 
imitation of an action, so is all drama, so is ballet; sculpture is an 
imitation of 'a woman, a mountain, a horse', so is painting; music is 
the imitation of an emotion; architecture and ceramics are the imita- 
tion of a function and of a Platonic harmony of proportion. Poetry, 
in the restricted sense of great verse, is all these, the last being of 
necessity included in the others. 

Of action: 

the oars were silver; 

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made 
The water which they beat to follow faster, 
As amorous of their strokes. 

Of a woman: 

For her own person, 
It beggar 'd all description: she did lie 
In her pavilion (cloth of gold of tissue), 
O'erpicturing that Venus where we see 
The fancy outwork nature. 

Of an emotion: 

my way of life 
Is falTn into the sere, the yellow leaf. 

It is also the imitation of a thought: 

we are such stuff 

As dreams are made on; and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

But the point to note is that it is not the action, the woman, the 
emotion, the thought, described or represented that really matters, but 
the way in which they are represented; it is the words that matter, 
the words, their sounds, their undertones and overtones of meaning, 
their combination, their rhythm; but the words in relation to the 


subject, of which we are at the same time aware, though perhaps or 
dimly, and what exactly it is scarcely concerns us, so that subject and 
expression are as it were fused and transfigured into something rich 
and strange, and instead merely of seeing Cleopatra in her barge, of 
feeling Macbeth's melancholy, or apprehending Prospero's common- 
place thought, we are surprised by a novel and exciting relationship, 
and experience a new and thrilling emotion quite unlike the everyday 
ones of joy and gladness, an exaltation which we may call the aesthetic 

The genesis of a work of art, then, seems to be the recognition 
by the artist of a significant relationship between the subject of his 
passionate contemplation and his medium if arranged in a certain way; 
and the work of art itself is the expression of this significant relation- 
ship. It is as though two poles charged with electricity were, at a 
certain critical distance from each other ^ to discharge their energy in a 
brilliant flash, bridging the gap between them, and creating out of the 
duality a new and illuminating unity. It is this resolution of a duality 
that, in the words of Coleridge, gives to the reader of poetry 'that 
pleasurable emotion, that peculiar state and degree of excitement, 
which arises in the poet himself in the act of composition'. 

This resolution of a duality, or recognition of unity, is the important 
thing, for man is by nature imitative and is, consciously or uncon- 
sciously, ever searching for resemblances, trying to establish new 
relationships and to rediscover old ones. There is nothing remarkable 
in this, for an object has its full significance only in relation to its 
environment: a curve must be related to a straight line, one colour to 
other colours, man to his fellow-men and to nature (compare Thomas 
Hardy), a word, a phrase, a thought, to its context. Simple examples 
of our delight in recognition are the popular appeal of Baroque angels 
and Madame Tussaud's waxworks, and the general appreciation of a 
portrait by its 'likeness' to the original. More profound and mysterious 
is the symbolism of dreams, the recognition, common to all men, in 
our unconscious minds of similarity in dissimilarity: thus in dream 
symbolism the human body is a house, parents are kings and queens, 
children are little animals or vermin, 1 birth is related to water, and 
dying to a journey, 8 while there is an almost inexhaustible range of 
sexual symbolism. 

1 Sec Swift'i Voyage to Brobdingnag. 

1 Compare Bishop King's lovely poem, The Exequy, in which he describes his longing to 
join his dead wife, in the figure of a journey; 

But hcarkl My Pulse, like a soft Drum 
Beats my approach, tells Thee I come; 
And slow howere my marches be, 
I shall at last sit down by Thee, 


Obvious examples in art are harmony and counterpoint in music; in 
architecture, the sweeping together into a unity by means of one 
dominating feature of the members that would otherwise compete for 
attention, as the dome of St. Paul's reconciles and unifies the subordi- 
nate elements of the cathedral. More profound again is the importance 
in tragedy, as in the OEdipus, of the Recognition scene which, accord- 
ing to Aristotle, is one of the two 'most powerful elements of emotional 
interest in tragedy'. And allied to recognition is reconciliation, the 
theme of Shakespeare's last romantic plays. Two of his most moving 
scenes, it will be admitted, are the reconciliation of Lear and Cordelia, 
and the recognition of Pericles and Marina. 

Whether this delight in resemblance, relationship, recognition, 
reconciliation, resolution, harmony, proportion, unity, call it what we 
will,- is ultimately sexual in origin, the desire for physical union, and 
therefore an aspect of spiritual union or love, or whether it is the 
expression of the desire of the individual 'to enter more closely into 
communion with humanity' through the collective unconscious, or 
both, or possibly neither, does not concern us here, but the realisation 
that this delight in resemblance and unity is fundamental in all art 
does concern us in the study of Shakespeare's poetry. 

In verse this principle of recognition and reconciliation in its most 
elementary form can be appreciated in the technical devices of rhyme, 
alliteration, dud assonance, where the repetition of similar sounds 
delights the ear: 

The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, 

Burned on the water: the poop was beaten gold; 

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that 

The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver. . . . 

Metre is more complex; sheer repetition of the same pattern of slacks 
and stresses is merely wearisome j the delight lies in the variation on 
the basic theme, the mounting of a secondary rhythm on the primary 
or basic one, always approaching, sometimes coinciding, but ever 
slipping elusively away, so that the effect is contrapuntal. In the lines 
quoted above, for example, the iambic foot is reversed at the beginning 
of the second and third lines Burned on and Purple incidentally 
emphasising the alliteration and assonance of the passage. Of course 
these devices will not of themselves transmute verse into poetry, indeed 
if unskilfully used they will be unpleasant, but in the hands of a poet 
they may have a powerful cumulative effect. 

'What is it?' Professor Housman asks, 'in these six simple words of 

Vfeksfc Afcb fros-TRY 117 

Nymphs and shepherds, dance no more 

what is it that can draw tears, as I know it can, to the eyes of more 
readers than one? What in the world is there to cry about? Why have 
the mere words the physical effect of pathos when the sense of the 
passage is blithe and gay? I can only say, because they are poetry, and 
find their way to something in man which is obscure and latent, some- 
thing older than the present organisation of his nature, like the patches 
of fen which still linger here and there in the drained lands of Cam- 

And again, what is the secret of 'the supremest gift of language, 
that gift of the magic and evocatory phrase, which', as Logan Pearsall 
Smith says, 'has made Shakespeare the master-magician of the world'? 
And he quotes from The Two Gentlemen of Verona\ 

The uncertain glory of an April day. 
And from Timoni 

Lie where the light foam of the sea may beat 
Thy grave-stone daily. 

These are simple examples, literal statements, without the complexities 
of formal imagery, yet they flash upon us with the intensity of a 
revelation of truth, and we realise that uncertain glory is the inevitable 
and perfect complement of April day, and that the epithet light, with 
its double significance of lightness and whiteness, its iteration of lie, 
the assonance of foam-stone, sea-beat, may-grave-day, exactly express 
Timon's desire to be where the sea, the symbol at once of birth and 
death, shall lightly cover him and weep on his low grave. The rhythm 
of this passage, too, will repay attention, for it plays a large part in the 
total effect. Observe how the verse is checked in the first half of the 
line by the stresses on lie where, light foam, and released in the rushing 
of the sea, then the steady measure (accentuated by the assonantal 
sea-beat) of may btat thy grdve, and the falling cadence of stone daily. 
It is, in fact, the rhythm of a wave breaking on a sandy beach. 

But language like this is raised from the plane of verse to that of 
poetry by something more powerful than craftsmanship and technical 
devices, however brilliantly employed, and it is not altogether satis- 
factory to say that we know that by its perfection it illuminates and 
reveals a fraction of ultimate reality, or truth, or beauty. We know 
that it does so, yet there is a missing mean. Perhaps the explanation 
lies in the powerful employment of onomatopoeia; not its simple and 
surface application as in: 


The armourers, accomplishing the knights, 
With busy hammers, closing rivets up, 

but its working in the unplumbed depths of the unconscious mind. 
Far more words are onomatopoeic in origin than is generally realised, 
their roots sunk deep in the remote times when prehistoric men began 
to evolve a language from sounds that were suggestive of the thing 
described or of the thought or emotion they struggled to express. 
Certain sounds, and combinations of sounds, therefore, must have an 
elemental significance of which we are not consciously aware, sounds 
which are echoed and partially reproduced in words like He, light, 
foam, sea, beat, grave, stone, day, glory. I am suggesting that as there 
is a visual symbolism in dreams there is in language an aural symbolism 
lying deep in the unconscious, and fully operative and evocatory only 
when experienced in the semi-hypnotic condition induced by verse, 
and to a lesser degree by rhythmical prose such as that of the Bible and 
Sir Thomas Brown. The poet feels the compulsion to employ these 
elemental symbols in the delicate form of words arranged in a certain 
order and set to their appropriate rhythm, and the reader experiences 
with a shock of delight the significant relationship between the words 
and 'something in man which is obscure and latent, something older 
than the present organisation of his nature, like the patches of fen 
which still linger here and there in the drained lands of Cambridge- 
shire'. If this is so it will explain the magic of poetry even when 
devoid of formal imagery and simile and metaphor, as Professor 
Housman reminds us, are things inessential to poetry. 

Shakespeare is, above all others, the master of the 'magic and 
evocatory phrase', and his poetry is full of lines luminous and in- 
evitable and ultimate. We may pick almost at random: 

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments 

Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme. 

Sound all the lofty instruments of war. 
Of moving accidents by flood and field. 

Light thickens; and the crow 
Makes wing to the rooky wood; 

And humming water must o'erwhelm thy corse, 
Lying with simple shells. 

In his essay on Keats, Robert Bridges writes of 


The highest gift of all in poetry, that which sets poetry above the, 
other arts; I mean the power of concentrating all the far-reaching re- 
sources of language on one point, so that a single and apparently effort- 
less expression rejoices the aesthetic imagination at the moment when it 
is most expectant and exacting, and at the same time astonishes the 
intellect with a new aspect of truth. This is only found in the greatest 
poets, and is rare in them; and it is no doubt for the possession of this 
power that Keats has been often likened to Shakespeare, and very 
justly, for Shakespeare is of all poets the greatest master of it. ... 
Examples from Shakespeare are such well-known sayings as these 

4 My way of life 
Is fain into the sear, the yellow leaf. 

Lay not that flattering unction to your soul.' 

But these last two quotations differ from those already given in that 
their effect is dependent largely upon the complexities of metaphor. 

Now, it is true that simile and metaphor are things inessential to 
poetry, but it is equally true that the successful employment of imagery 
immensely intensifies the effect of poetry; as in verse a secondary 
emotional rhythm is mounted on the primary one to form a new and 
harmonious unity, so the sensuous imagery of simile and metaphor 
is mounted on the primary though more shadowy and remote imagery 
suggested by the words themselves. Once again the same principle of 
harmony and unity is at work: the delighted recognition of the relation 
of the imagery in the simile and metaphor to the theme as a whole, 
and of the image to its immediate object. 

'The greatest thing of all by far is to be a master of metaphor. It 
is the one thing that cannot be learned from others: and it is also a sign 
of original genius, since a good metaphor implies the intuitive percep- 
tion of the similarity in dissimilars.' 

The words are Aristotle's, and when Robert Bridges describes Shake- 
speare as 'the greatest master of concentrating all the far-reaching 
resources of language on one point' he is thinking primarily of his use 
of metaphor. And Sir Walter Raleigh, of all English critics since 
Johnson the most cautious and the least given to superlatives: 

If there is one mark which more than another distinguishes Shake- 
speare's mature style from all other writing whatsoever, it is his royal 
wealth of metaphor. 

'From all other writing whatsoever.' And Logan Pearsall Smith: 


This unparalleled wealth of imagery shows itself, above all, in that 
royal use of metaphor, which is the most distinguishing quality of his 

And we find the same testimony if we go back to Coleridge, with 
whom the study of Shakespeare's imagery begins. Of the youthful 
author of Venus and Adonis he writes: 

And still mounting the intellectual ladder, he had as unequivocally 
proved the indwelling in his mind of imagination, or the power by which 
one image or feeling is made to modify many others, and by a sort of 
fusion to force many into one; that which afterwards showed itself in 
such might and energy in Lear, where the deep anguish of a father 
spreads the feeling of ingratitude and cruelty over the very elements of 
heaven; and which, combining many circumstances into one moment 
of consciousness, tends to produce that ultimate end of all human 
thought and human feeling, unity, and thereby the reduction of the 
spirit to its principle and fountain, who is alone truly one. 

But this 'royal wealth of metaphor' was the inimitable quality of 
Shakespeare's mature style; it was not his to begin with, but developed 
with his dramatic power. Coleridge was perhaps only being wise 
after the event, for there is nothing very remarkable or individual 
about the imagery of the early poems, and little to distinguish it from 
that of his contemporaries. Keats was twenty-one when he wrote 
Endymion^ twenty-three when he wrote Hyperion^ and died when he 
was only twenty- five. Shakespeare was twenty-nine when he wrote 
Venus and Adonis^ which may be compared with Endymion^ and can 
scarcely be said to approach the sublimity of Hyperion. Jeffrey's 
review of Endymion might, indeed, be applied with equal justice 
and injustice to Venus and Adonis\ 

The thin and scanty tissue of his story is merely the light framework 
on which his florid wreaths are suspended; and while his imaginations 
go rambling and entangling themselves every where, like wild honey- 
suckles, all idea of sober reason, and plan, and consistency, is utterly 
forgotten, and 'strangled in their waste fertility'. 

It is important to remember that Shakespeare was a poet before he 
was a dramatist: he was a poet born, and a dramatist by profession 
fortunately, for it is possible that without the stimulus of the stage he 
would never have developed the dazzling hieroglyphical language 
which distinguishes him from all other poets. 

In Venus and Adonis^ despite its ostensible passion and hot-house 


atmosphere, there is a paradoxical frigidity: Hazlitt called this poem 
and Lucrece 'a couple of ice-boxes, as hard, as glittering, and as cold'. 
This, no doubt, is partly the result of the stiff, conventional, and 
artificial imagery which was the fashionable and common property of 
the Elizabethans, of Sidney, Spenser, and the University Wits, and 
which has a certain wiry charm, in particular of the veneer of red and 
white with which they are enamelled: 'Rose-cheek'd Adonis'; 'More 
white and red than doves and roses are'; 'Making them red and pale 
with fresh variety'; "Twixt crimson shame, and anger ashy-pale: 
being red she loves him best: and being white, her best is better'd with 
a more delight'; 'red cheeks and fiery eyes'; 'lily fingers'; 'Within 
the circuit of the ivory pale'; 'How white and red each other did 
destroy'; 'claps her pale cheek till clapping makes it red'; 'a lily 
prisoned in a gaol of snow, or ivory in an alabaster band'; 'crimson 
liveries'; 'coral mouth', 'whereat a sudden pale, Like lawn being 
spread upon the blushing rose'; 'Like milk and blood being mingled 
both together'; 'whose wonted lily white With purple tears, that his 
wound wept, was drench'd.' The list is by no means exhaustive, but 
at the end of the poem to emphasise this antithesis there is the symbolic 
flower that springs from Adonis's blood: 

And in his blood, that on the ground lay spill'd, 
A purple flower sprung up, chequer's with white; 
Resembling well his pale cheeks and the blood 
Which in round drops upon their whiteness stood. 

A similar and possibly longer list might be compiled from Lucrece. 
This opposition of red and white, however, becomes something more 
than a conventional usage, and the two colours run like threads 
through the warp of his early poetry, sometimes with miraculous 

Nor did I wonder at the lily's white, 
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose; 


beauty's ensign yet 

Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, 
And death's pale flag is not advanced there. 

Characteristic of his early style, both in prose and verse, is his 
euphuism, Lyly's golden legacy, with its classical allusions, unnatural 
history, and equally unnatural wordplay, a quaintly pedantic yet 


humorously self-conscious style which at its best is something more 
than merely charming, though rarely dramatic: 

Love's feeling is more soft and sensible 

Than are the tender horns of cockled snails; 

Love's tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste: 

For valour, is not love a Hercules, 

Still climbing trees in the Hesperides? 

Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical 

As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair. 

At its worst it is merely tedious. 

The young Shakespeare, it will be observed, is never in a hurry. 
He can always find time to play with a word that takes his fancy, to 
spin it in the air, to bandy it about, admire its slippery meanings, and 
only discard it when a new one catches his eye. 'A quibble', Dr, 
Johnson complains, 'is the golden apple for which he will always turn 
aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. ... A quibble was 
to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content 
to lose it.' And sometimes with a perverse and deadly pedantry he sc 
frets and worries a conceit that it collapses from sheer exhaustion 
all its initial energy gone, leaving so much lifeless matter in hi; 

The difference between Shakespeare's youthful and mature style 
is largely a matter of speed. His early characters, like the author him 
self, insist on savouring to the full the delicious implications of j 
language recently and continually enriched by exotic and excitinj 
words newly imported from all the quarters of the globe, and th< 
action must wait. Progress is leisurely, rarely more strenuous than ; 
stroll, for as yet the poetry, not the play, is the thing. So the imager 
is slowly unfolded, often in the expansive form of a simile, and whei 
metaphor is used it is more often in the nature of a conceit than con 
centrated into a single word: 

Many a morning hath he there been seen, 
With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew, 
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs: 
But all so soon as the all-cheering sun 
Should in the farthest east begin to draw 
The shady curtains from Aurora's bed, 
Away from light steals home my heavy son. 



Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs; 
Being purg'd, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes; 
Being vex'd, a sea nourish'd with lovers' tears: 
What is it else? a madness most discreet, 
A choking gall and a preserving sweet. 

The progress is that of a pageant or the stately measure of a pavane; 
the poetry is lovely and lyrical, but it is scarcely dramatic; the imagery 
is non-functional and suspended in wreaths from the framework of his 
story. Lamb's criticism of Fletcher might almost be applied to this 
early verse: 'He lays line upon line, making up one after the other, 
adding image to image so deliberately that we see where they join.' 

Lovis Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet contain some of the 
most beautiful poetry in our language. Consider the opening of Love's 
Labour's Lost: 

Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives, 
Live register'd upon our brazen tombs, 
And then grace us in the disgrace of death: 
When, spite of cormorant devouring Time, 
The endeavour of this present breath may buy 
That honour which shall bate his scythe's keen edge, 
And make us heirs of all eternity. 

And as illustration we should have to quote almost the whole of 
Romeo and Juliet. But poetry like this is a medium that can be applied 
in drama only to a limited range of subject-matter. The static and 
monumental style is more suited to the artificial and non-dramatic 
form of the sonnet, and had Shakespeare written nothing but his sonnet 
sequence he must still have ranked as our greatest lyric poet. 

It was Stevenson who first remarked the peculiar emotive power of 
the letters p y b, v,/, and certainly in the sonnets and the early plays 
they are used in a way that gives the sequence a musical unity and 
a pervading atmosphere of the pride of youth and spring, tinged with 
a melancholy recognition of the transience of beauty: 

Calls back the lovely April of her prime. . . . 

With all triumphant splendour on my brow. . . . 

'Gainst death, and all-oblivious enmity 

Shall you pace forth, your praise shall still find room, 

Even in the eyes of all posterity. . . . 

Why is my verse so barren of new pride? 

So far from variation or quick change? . . . 

Was it the proud full sail of his great verse, 

Bound for the prize of all too precious you. . . . 


From you have I been absent in the spring, 

When proud pied April, dress'd in all his trim, 

Hath put a spirit of youth in everything. . . . 

And beauty making beautiful old rhyme, 

In praise of Ladies dead, and lovely Knights. . . . 

So all their praises are but prophecies 

Of this our time, all you prefiguring. 

This atmosphere of pride and pomp, qualities common to youth and 
death, is emphasised by the imagery which suggests the bright heraldic 
colouring of a pageant or of a funeral trophy: 

Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament, 
And only herald to the gaudy spring. . . . 
Thy youth's proud livery so gaz'd on now. ... 
Kissing with golden face the meadows green. . . . 
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments 
Of Princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme. . . . 
Your monument shall be my gentle verse. . . . 
Then in the blazon of sweet beauty's best. 

It is perhaps significant that Love's Labours Lost begins with a 
reference to death and brazen tombs, and that the last scene of Romeo 
and Juliet takes place in a funeral monument: 

Fll bury thee in a triumphant grave. 
A grave? O, no! a lantern, slaughter'd youth, 
For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes 
This vault a feasting presence full of light. 

But even in the early plays there are men of action who, impatient 
of the leisurely progress of events and exasperated by the gossips and 
chatterboxes like Capulet and York and by the word-spinning of 
tragic heroes such as Romeo and Richard II, begin to force the pace 4 . 
Biron, Mercutio, Bolingbroke, Faulconbridge, and then Hotspur, 
Benedick and Henry V. Shakespeare has to kill Mercutio, a bull in 
his delicate china-shop, but the others are importunate; the action 
quickens, there is less time for set lyrical pieces though occasionally 
Shakespeare insists and he is driven to apply the poetry to the char- 
acters themselves and to the furtherance of the action. He even forces 
himself to write prose to avoid the temptation of sunrises and roses, 
subjects which he never was able to resist, and as a deliberate exercise 
in a more realistic medium. His characters mock him and his sonnets: 
'Tush, none but minstrels like of sonneting 7 , says Biron. 'When shall 


you see me write a thing in rhyme?' And Mercutio: 'Now is he for 
the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: Laura, to his lady, was but a 
kitchen-wench.' And Hotspur: 

I had rather be a kitten and cry mew 

Than one of these same metre ballad-mongers: 

I had rather hear a brazen canstick turn'd, 

Or a dry wheel grate on the axle-tree; 

And that would set my teeth nothing on edge, 

Nothing so much as mincing poetry: 

'Tis like the forc'd gait of a shuffling nag. 

He even mocks himself and his use of the stiff childish imagery, 
drawn not from observation but from the fashionable poets of the 
period, the symbolic lilies and roses, metals and precious stones: 

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; 

Coral is far more red than her lips' red; 

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; 

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. 

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white, 

But no such roses see I in her cheeks. 

And in some perfumes is there more delight 

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. 

When Yeats grew old, the world of nature, with its joys from which 
he was separated by the years, and its cruel reminders of mortality, 
became intolerable, and he describes how 'sick with desire' he had 
'sailed the seas and come to the holy city of Byzantium', the city of 
artifice where birds are made 

Of hammered gold and gold enamelling 
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake; 
Or set upon a golden bough to sing 
To lords and ladies of Byzantium. 

But Shakespeare as a young man set sail in the opposite direction, 
from Byzantium, its gold, enamels, and mosaics, through the mackerel- 
crowded seas to the country where real birds sang upon real boughs. 
He never forgot the holy city: Hamlet, for instance, seems to be 
thinking of it when he says: 'This most excellent canopy, the air, look 
you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted 
with golden fire.' And lachimo: 


The roof o' the chamber 
With golden cherubims is fretted: her andirons 
(I had forgot them) were two winking Cupids 
Of silver, each on one foot standing, nicely 
Depending on their brands. 

And Prospero's magic island is not very far from that 'dolphin-torn, 
that gong-tormented sea'. 

From 1596 to 1600 we can watch Shakespeare's progress from poet 
to dramatist, or rather from lyric poet to dramatic poet. The transition 
was accomplished, curiously enough, partly by the use of prose which, 
though itself often the artificial euphuism of Lyly, was essentially a 
dramatic medium: it was unsuitable for lyrical digressions, and had 
to be applied to character and action. As a result of this discipline his 
verse becomes functional and organic, it is no longer a detachable 
ornament, it is the character, it is the action, which is what Granville- 
Barker means when he says that the actor must 'impersonate Lear 
and the storm together, by identifying Lear's passion with the storm's.' 
And again, in spite of its artificiality, prose taught Shakespeare a 
simpler, almost colloquial form of verse, a much more flexible instru- 
ment than the stiff and stilted language of his early plays; indeed, as 
in Much Ado^ the verse is sometimes more simple and natural than the 
prose. This easy, almost placid, style is seen at its best perhaps in 
"Julius C astir: 

My heart doth joy that yet in all my life 
I found no man but he was true to me. 
I shall have glory by this losing day, 
More than Octavius and Mark Antony 
By this vile conquest shall attain unto. 

There is a change too in the imagery, from the merely conventional 
to that drawn from Shakespeare's own observation; in addition to the 
little world of art the whole world of sense is pressed into service. 
We can see the conflict between the two in A Midsummer Night's 
Dream : 

Hoary-headed frosts 

Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose; 
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown 
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds 
Is, as in mockery, set. 

And even as late as Much Ado About Nothing: 


And bid her steal into the pleached bower 
Where honey-suckles ripened by the sun, 
Forbid the sun to enter: like favourites, 
Made proud by princes, that advance their pride, 
Against that power that bred it. ... 
The pleasantst angling is to see the fish 
Cut with her golden oars the silver stream 
And greedily devour the treacherous bait. 

Simile, the more diffuse, lyrical, and less dramatic comparison is at 
first favoured, but it is a comparison drawn from nature: 

As wild geese that the creeping fowler eye, 
Or russet-pated choughs, many in sort, 
Rising and cawing at the gun's report, 
Sever themselves and madly sweep the sky, 
So, at his sight, away his followers fly. 

Then metaphor becomes commoner, though often scarcely to be 
distinguished in its application from simile: 

Lowliness is young ambition's ladder, 
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face; 
But when he once obtains the upmost round, 
He then unto the ladder turns his back, 
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees 
By which he did ascend. 

It is a leisurely method and just a little clumsy. Even in Hamlet we 

I have heard, 

The cock, that is the trumpet to the morn, 
Doth with his lofty and thrill sounding throat 
Awake the god of day. 

But look, the morn, in russet mantle clad, 
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastern hill. 

There is a willow grows aslant a brook, 

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. 

But this is more typical: 

O! such a deed 

As from the body of contraction plucks 
The very soul; and sweet religion makes 


A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow; 
Yea, this solidity and compound mass, 
With tristful visage, as against the doom, 
Is thought-sick at the act. 

Hamlet is the great landmark in Shakespeare's progress: it stands 
like a rock exactly in the middle of his career, a point of arrival and 
at the same time a point of departure. It is not simply that in Hamlet 
we come closer to Shakespeare than in any other play. It is a point 
of arrival because it is the culmination of the style which with the aid 
of prose he had evolved from the lyrical drama, unequal yet in speed 
and concentration it is true, for there are diffuse, slow-moving and 
extra-dramatic passages, but the rest is packed with thought and 
feeling flashing in images of unforgettable intensity. Above all, the 
character is born of the verse, hewn out of the poetry, or rather 
language has become a plastic medium in which Shakespeare models 
his characters and quickens them with his imagery. The distance 
covered in the six or seven years after writing Love's Labour's Lost 
and Romeo and Juliet is immense, and may be gauged by comparing 
the characters of Romeo and Hamlet, two not dissimilar characters 
Hazlitt said that Romeo was Hamlet in love. But Romeo is little 
more than a shadow cast upon a background of poetry, Hamlet is the 
substance and the poetry combined. 

Shakespeare did indeed seem to pause after writing Hamlet^ as if he 
were himself aware that he had come half way, and of the significance 
of the play as a landmark. He was probably tired after the strain of 
writing two plays a year for twelve years, and may well have hesitated 
before resuming his voyage 'on strange seas of thought alone' far 
stranger and more lonely seas than any he had yet embarked on; but 
it seems that he was not altogether satisfied. He had developed a 
mannerism. A brilliant form of imagery of which he had become 
increasingly fond had got out of control and threatened to become 
mere caricature. The following passage could come out of no play 
but Hamlet: 

O f what a noble mind is here overthrown ! 

The courtier's, soldier's, scholar's, eye, tongue, sword; 

The expectancy and rose of the fair state, 

The glass of fashion and the mould of form, 

The observ'd of all observers, quite, quite down! 

And I, of kdies most deject and wretched, 

That suck'd the honey of his music vows, 

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason, 

Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh; 


That unmatch'd form and feature of blown youth 

Blasted with ecstasy. O, woe is me, 

To have seen what I have seen, see what I see! 

Six pairs in eight lines! Three pairs of adjectives: deject and 
wretched^ the Latin and the Saxon; noble and sovereign, two Latin 
words; out of tune and harsh, Latin and Saxon again. And then the 
nouns: glass of fashion and the mould of form, the concrete Saxon 
glass and mould contrasting with and intensifying the Latin abstrac- 
tions; form and feature, the general reinforced by the particular; 
above all, expectancy and rose, the polysyllabic Latin abstraction 
vivified by its association with the short and concrete Saxon word, the 
idea reconciled with the image. The whole passage is a complex of 
the sensuous and intellectual, of the concrete and the abstract, Saxon 
and Latin; and through it run the concepts of expectancy, fashion, 
manners, reason, youth, and madness, set off by, and at the same time 
heightening the value of, the imagery of the rose, glass, mould, honey, 
music, bells, and back again to the rose now blown. Nor is the image 
all visual: honey is an imaginative appeal to the palate, music and 
bells to the ear. Never before had there been poetry like this in 
English; no wonder that Shakespeare in the excitement of writing 
a tragedy which absorbed all his faculties overlooked the fact that he 
was gaining his effect largely by the repetition of the same device 
which, once he had discovered it, became an unconscious and auto- 
matic form of expression. We can trace the development of the 
mannerism in the plays that precede Hamlet ; thus, in The Merchant 
of Venice we have: due and forfeit of my bond, the husbandry and manage 
of my house, dread and fear of kings, and the fine force and road of 
casualty ', and chaff and ruin of the times. In Much Ado: sign and 
semblance of her honour, authority and show of truth, grey hairs and 
bruise of many days. In Julius Ctesar: such ferret and such fiery eyes, 
signed in thy spoil and crimsoned in thy Lethe, domestic fury and fierce 
civil strife, show and promise of their mettle, bound in shallows and in 
miseries. In Twelfth Night: of what validity and pitch soever , but falls 
into abatement and low price, light airs and recollected terms, the spinsters 
and the knitters in the sun, this accident and flood of fortune. But in the 
first Act of Hamlet we have: fair and warlike form, sensible and true 
avouch^ gross and scope of my opinion, strict and most observant watch, 
covenant and carriage of the article designed, post-haste and romage, 
high and palmy state, extravagant and erring spirit, disjoint and out of 
frame, gentle and unforced accord, rank and gross, dead vast and middle 
of the night, perfume and suppliance of a minute, voice and yielding of 
that body, shot and danger of desire, morn and liquid dew of youth, steep 


and thorny way, puffed and reckless, rank and station, select and generous, 
free and bounteous, sanctified and pious bawds, pith and marrow of our 
attribute, pales and forts of t reason, ponderous and marble jaws, sul- 
phurous and tormenting flames, knotted and combined locks , gates and 
alleys of the body, thin and wholesome blood, vile and loathsome crust, 
luxury and damned incest, youth and observation, book and volume of 
my brain y business and desire, love and friending; and this list is by no 
means exhaustive. 

This mannerism has been insisted on as it adds to the play a third 
quality, that of style, which, together with those of character and of 
imagery, drawn largely from sickness and disease as Dr. Caroline 
Spurgeon has shown, gives it a peculiar emphasis and distinction. It 
is incidentally useful in helping to date the plays. The dates both of 
AWs Well that Ends Well and of Troilus and Cressida are disputed; 
but the first with its catastrophe and heel of pastime must belong to the 
Hamlet period, and wind and tempest of her frown one would at once 
attribute to Hamlet, though in fact it is Troilus and Cressida. 

It really does seem as though Shakespeare became conscious of the 
overworking of this device of pairing words and phrases, and though 
in Troilus and Cressida, almost certainly his next play, he employs it 
vaunt and firstlings of those broils, checks and disasters, bias and thwart, 
pale and bloodless emulation, sinew and the forehand of our host, swing 
and rudeness of his poise, pride and salt scorn of his eyes it is less fre- 
quent and obtrusive, and its use becomes rarer as Shakespeare achieves 
the same effect by other means. 1 

It has already been suggested that the difference between Shake- 
speare's early and mature styles is a matter largely of speed. In Romeo 
and Juliet the pace is leisurely, not so much the pace of the action as 
of the verse which flows independently on a plane above that of the 
action; which is only another way of saying that the speech is by no 
means always dramatic. Not only this, but the verse itself, its ideas 
and images Romeo's last speech is exceptional moves with the 
stateliness of a swan in unruffled waters. In Hamlet the verse is 
geared to the action, or rather the verse is the action, for what Hamlet 
says or thinks is as important dramatically as what he does, or fails to 
do. Though his soliloquies end in a stalemate or at best in a resolution, 
they advance the action by their revelation of character and motive; 

1 It is worth observing one of its uses in Antony and Cleopatra^ in Enobarbui'a dying 

Throw my heart 

Against the flint and hardness of my fault, 
Which, being dried with grief, will break to powder. 
And finish all foul thoughts. 


his speech is dynamic, a development; but Romeo's eloquence is an 
eddy without progression. This is, no doubt, an over-statement and 
an over-simplification, but compare soliloquies of Romeo and Hamlet 
and the difference is apparent: 

Romeo. Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, 
Having some business, do entreat her eyes 
To twinkle in their spheres till they return. 
What if her eyes were there, they in her head? 
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars, 
As daylight doth a lamp: her eye in heaven 
Would through the airy region stream so bright 
That birds would sing and think it were not night. 
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! 
O! that I were a glove upon that hand, 
That I might touch that cheek! 

Ham/ft. Who would fardels bear, 

To grunt and sweat under a weary life, 
But that the dread of something after death, 
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn, 
No traveller returns, puzzles the will, 
And makes us rather bear those ills we have 
Than fly to others that we know not of? 
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all; 
And thus the native hue of resolution 
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought; 
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, 
With this regard their currents turn awry, 
And lose the name of action. 

Romeo elaborates one image, Hamlet jumps from image to image 
impelled by a sort of emotional logic, until finally the mounting heat 
and pressure of his imagination fuses the images of a falcon and of a 
river losing itself in the sand. Romeo's is the concentric method of 
the conceit, expanding like a bubble about its centre; Hamlet's 
imagery is centrifugal, flying off from the centre like sparks from a 
Catherine wheel, 'images that yet fresh images beget'. 'Shakespeare 
mingles everything', says Lamb, 'he runs line into line, embarrasses 
sentences and metaphors; before one idea has burst its shell, another is 
hatched and clamorous for disclosure.' The verse of Hamlet, however, 
is not always as closely knit as this, but as Shakespeare writes his 
great series of tragedies, Othello, Lear, Macbeth, we note the gathering 
concentration and momentum of his verse in which, as Gray said, 
'every word is a picture': 


Sleep, that knits up the ravelPd sleave of care, 
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, 
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, 
Chief nourisher in life's feast; 

The image is packed into a single word: pity rides, ambition vaults, 
business is masked, the mind is tortured, memory is a warder, life a 
fever, death is dusty, a shadow, an actor, an idiot's tale; and Lady 
Macbeth asks, 

Was the hope drunk 

Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since, 
And wakes it now, to look so green and pale 
At what it did so freely? 

Of this extraordinary reproduction of images by fission Hazlitt 

His language abounds in sudden transitions and elliptical expressions. 
This is the source of his mixed metaphors, which are only abbreviated 
forms of speech. These, however, give no pain from long custom. They 
have, in fact, become idioms in the language. They are the building, 
and not the scaffolding to thought. We take the meaning and effect of 
a well-known passage entire, and no more stop to scan and spell out the 
particular* words and phrases, than the syllables of which they are 

And this, as Mr. Middleton Murry has observed, is because 'we have 
not, and we are not intended to have, time to unfold his metaphors. . . . 
His success, when we examine it, is not really so surprising, for the 
extent to which images are discordant depends upon the extent to 
which we unfold them, and that is wholly within the great poet's 
control, for it in turn depends primarily upon the rhythm and tempo 
of his writing.' Part of the secret, then, of Shakespeare's style is this 
perfect adjustment of speed to imagery; in the early verse we have 
time to unfold and are expected to examine the elaborated figures; and 
when, as nearly always in his later poetry the speed is both the product 
of and the energy that generates the imagery, there can be no question 
of discordancy. 

In Antony and Cleopatra the imagery is richer, but the transitions 
less dazzling. On the other hand the language is even more compact 
and massy, an elliptical and compressed style, as though Shakespeare, 
impatient of words that added nothing to the almost plastic expression 
of his imagination, rejected them and compelled the remainder into 
any kind of service: 


Wouldst thou be window'd in great Rome, and see 
Thy master thus with pleach'd arms, bending down 
His corrigible neck, his face subdued 
To penetrative shame, whilst the wheel'd seat 
Of fortunate Caesar, drawn before him, branded 
His baseness that ensued? 


It is great 

To do that thing that ends all other deeds, 
Which shackles accidents, and bolts up change; 
Which sleeps, and never palates more the dug, 
The beggar's nurse and Caesar's. 

In Antony and Cleopatra language almost bursts its bonds, changing 
its quality to become a sculptor's medium. Sometimes, however, the 
pressure is relaxed and the poetry expands and swells into a rich elegiac 

O! wither'd is the garland of the war, 
The soldier's pole is fall'n: young boys and girls 
Are level now with men; the odds is gone, 
And there is nothing left remarkable 
Beneath the visiting moon. 

The glow and passion of jintony and Cleopatra was followed by the 
curiously frigid rhetoric of Coriolanus^ and then by the four romances 
of Shakespeare's final period : Pericles* Cymbelme^ The Winters Tale^ 
and The Tempest^ written partly in his retirement at Stratford. These 
four plays form a well-defined group: they are all comedies in that they 
end happily; they are all concerned with the relations between father 
and daughter; they are all fantastically improbable The Tempest 
indeed is little more than a fairy-tale; they all have a remarkable 
duality of tone, 2 particularly the first three; and they all suggest a 
return of Shakespeare to his first love, pure poetry. 

These last two points are related. There is, generally in the first 
three acts of the plays, a savageness and brutality of speech that might 
come from the mouth of Thersites or Timon, and contrasts strangely 
with the gentleness and delicacy of the final scenes. Marina suffers 
the ordeal of the brothel at Mytilene; Posthumus talks more coarsely 
of Imogen than does Hamlet of his mother; and yellow lachimo 

1 Only the last three Acts of Pericles are by Shakespeare. 

* Pericles and The Winter's Tale have also a duality of time. Between Acts III and IV 
there it a break in the one of 14 years, in the other of 16. 


speaks a language that lago would understand, though poetry as 
intense as any that Shakespeare wrote: 

It cannot be i' the eye; for apes and monkeys, 
'Twixt two such shes, would chatter this way, and 
Contemn with mows the other: nor i' the judgment; 
For idiots, in this case of favour, would, 
Be wisely definite: nor i' the appetite; 
Sluttery, to such neat excellence oppos'd, 
Should make desire vomit emptiness, 
Not so allur'd to feed. 

Leontes is a morbid Othello with none of his virtues: 

There have been, 

Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now; 
And many a man there is, even at this present, 
Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm, 
That little thinks she has been sluic'd in's absence 
And his pond fish'd by his next neighbour, by 
Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there's comfort in't, 
Whiles other men have gates and those gates open'd, 
As mine, against their will. Should all despair 
That have revolted wives, the tenth of mankind 
Would Jiang themselves. Physic for't there is none; 
It is a bawdy planet, that will strike 
Where 'tis predominant; and 'tis powerful, think it, 
From east, west, north and south. 

Antonio and Sebastian in The Tempest, despite their poetry, are more 
dangerous villains than the bungling and prosaic Don John and 
Borachio of Much Ado. And then there is Caliban with his Timon- 
like vituperation: 

As wicked dew as e ? er my mother brush'd 
With raven's feather from unwholesome fen 
Drop on you both! a south-west blow on ye 
And blister you all o'er! 

Against this viciousness of atmosphere, character, and language of the 
first half of the plays is set not only the pure poetry of the lyrics, Hark, 
hark, the lark, When daffodils begin to peer, Lawn as white as driven 
snow, Come unto these yellow sands, Full fathom five, Where the bee 
sucks, and of the masque in The Tempest, but also the poetry, much of 
it more lyrical than dramatic, of the last two acts. In Pericles there is 
the recognition scene which, for J. W. Mackail, is 'unsurpassed one 

A w u runiKY 

sometimes is tempted to say, unequalled for sheer perfection of 
beauty in the whole of Shakespeare's work. . . . Speech has become 
music.' And there is the wonderful lament of Pericles for Thaisa, 
surely some of the loveliest lines that Shakespeare ever wrote: 

A terrible childbed hast thou had, my dear; 
No light, no fire: the unfriendly elements 
Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time 
To give thee hallow'd to thy grave, but straight 
Must cast thee, scarcely coffin'd, in the ooze; 
Where, for a monument upon thy bones, 
And aye-remaining lamps, the belching whale 
And humming water must o'erwhelm thy corse, 
Lying with simple shells. 

In Cymbeline there is the slow-moving and simple poetry of the scene 
where Imogen takes refuge with her brothers, the dirge, Fear no more 
the heat 0' the sun^ and the lament of Arviragus: 

With fairest flowers, 

Whilst summer lasts, and I live here, Fidele, 
I'll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack 
The flower that's like thy face, pale primrose, nor 
The azured harebell, like thy veins; no, nor 
The leaf of eglantine, whom not to slander, 
Out-sweetened not thy breath: the ruddock would 
With charitable bill O bill, sore shaming 
Those rich-left heirs that let their fathers lie 
Without a monument! bring thee all this: 
Yea, and furr'd moss besides, when flowers are none, 
To winter-ground thy corse. 

There is the sheep-shearing scene in The Jointer's Tale\ 

O Proserpina, 

For the flowers now, that frighted thou let'st fall 
From Dis's waggon! daffodils 
That come before the swallow dares, and take 
The winds of March with beauty; violets dim, 
But sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes 
Or Cytherea's breath; pale primroses, 
That die unmarried, ere they can behold 
Bright Phcebus in his strength, a malady 
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and 
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds, 
The flower-de-luce being one. 


And what shall we say of The Tempest which, in spite of the abortive 
villainies of Antonio, Sebastian and Caliban, is the purest poetry almost 
from beginning to end? 

It will be noted that Shakespeare returns, perhaps with a feeling of 
nostalgia, to the imagery of his youth, to the classical, childish because 
so conventional, and charming figures of the period of the Sonnets: 
axur'd hare-bell like thy veins; sweeter than the lids of yuno's eyes; 
bright Phcebus in his strength. But there is a difference: the effect is 
mellower and less brittle (I am not referring so much to the passages 
just quoted), partly because there is a far greater proportion of natural 
imagery, partly because of the greater technical mastery and variety 
of the verse, partly because of the sonorous vowel music, very different 
from the bravery of the consonants in: 

From you have I been absent in the spring, 
When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim, 
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything, 
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him. 

The pomp of spring has given way to a deep autumnal tone. 

These four plays suggest that Shakespeare had grown tired of 
writing for the stage, to please an audience, and wrote instead to 
please himself. , Apart from the heroines it is not the characters but 
the poetry that we remember, for with the exception of Prospero and 
possibly lachimo, none of the serious characters leaves any deep im- 
pression. What do we know about Pericles, Cymbeline, and Leontes, 
or care about Posthumus, Florizel, and Ferdinand? They serve their 
purpose: they can be made to speak poetry, and they help to form the 
framework to which the rest of the poetry is applied. 

Shakespeare was a poet before he was a dramatist; had he lived in 
any other age it is possible that he would not have been a dramatist at 
all; but he happened to be born almost in the same year as the poetic 
drama, and as he had somehow to make a living it was only prudent 
to harness his poetry to the stripling and popular drama instead of 
following his father's profession and writing poetry in his spare time. 
As it happened he was intoxicated by the drama and for a magical 
fifteen years character and poetry were perfectly fused, character 
making ever fresh demands and calling forth all the powers and 
resources of the poet. The pace must have been killing, and in his 
last years he turned with relief to romance and fairy-tale, where the 
demands of character were less exigent and the subject-matter for his 
poetry was less restricted. 
* Dr. Caroline Spurgeon has shown how, especially in the tragedies, 


there is a dominating image or group of images, peculiar to the play 
and born of the emotions of the theme, and which recurs like 'a motif 
in a musical fugue or sonata'. Thus in Romeo and *Juliet the dominat- 
ing image is light, in Othello animals in action, in Antony and Cleopatra 
'the world, the firmament, the ocean, and vastness generally'. 1 It is 
significant that in the plays that leave the least vivid impression, that 
strike us as comparatively cold, colourless, and formal, yulius Casar 
and CoriolanuS) there is in the one no leading or floating image, in the 
other merely the obtrusive symbol of the body, taken from North's 
Plutarch and somewhat pedantically worked out like a conceit on a 
gigantic scale. It is as though Shakespeare were not possessed by the 
theme, and wrote merely dispassionately. There can be no doubt that, 
in the greatest plays, this recurrent imagery, of which the reader is 
unconscious as was no doubt Shakespeare himself when he wrote, 
fuses them into a unity, an emotional unity, surpassing anything that 
can be achieved by the mechanical devices of unity of time and place. 
Even the neglected but beautiful fragment of Pericles is bound together 
by this imaginative intensity, and the reader must be dull of soul 
indeed who does not feel the thrill of Pericles' speech when he recog- 
nises his sea-born daughter Marina: 

O Helicanus, strike me, honoured sir; 
Give me a gash, put me to present pain; 
Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me 
O'erbear the shores of my mortality, 
And drown me with their sweetness. 

But within this great pattern of imagery which is co-extensive with 
the play there are the individual images which, as Mr. Day Lewis - 
says, if they are not to be 'a series of stabbing, meaningless flashes, a 
pattern of imagery must be created, a relationship equivalent to that 
which underlies all reality, living or inanimate'. And Mr. Middleton 
Murry writes to the same effect: 

The greatest mastery of imagery does not lie in the use, however 
beautiful and revealing, of isolated images, but in the harmonious total 
impression produced by a succession of subtly related images. 

And he analyses Enobarbus's famous description, which Shakespeare 
took from North's Plutarch^ of Cleopatra in her barge on Cydnus, and 
shows how in the similes and metaphors 'the successive elements the 
winds, the water, the air are represented all as succumbing to the 

1 This vastness of scale is kept constantly before us by the use of the word "world", which 
occurs 42 times, nearly double or more than double as often as in most other plays/ 


enchantment of love which breathes from the great Queen and her 
burning barge; and by this varied return on a single motive North's 
inconsequential panorama is given an organic unity'. 1 
A simpler example, perhaps, is Prospero's speech: 

You do look, my son, in a moved sort, 
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir. 
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on; and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep. 

There is the accumulation of words signifying insubstantiality: spirits, 
melted^ air, thin, baseless, vision, cloud, leading to the central concrete 
imagery of towers, palaces, temples, and the great globe itself, then the 
repetition of the theme of unreality and impermanence: dissolve, in- 
substantial, faded, rack, stuff, dreams, and finally the word sleep, 
which reconciles and knits up the ideas of transience and unreality 
with that of eternity. But note also how the rhythm and emotional 
significance of the final 'is rounded with a sleep' repeats that of the 
introductory 'Our revels now are ended', and more subtly still, how 
the climax of the central concrete imagery 'the great globe itself, Yea, 
all which it inherit', is made perfect in the climax of the whole 
passage, 'Is rounded with a sleep'. 

1 See p. 457. 



THE following extracts are printed in chronological order, or at 
least in an order which must be approximately that in which 
Shakespeare wrote them, and are intended to illustrate his 
development as craftsman, poet, and dramatist. Technically, 
they illustrate the development of his verse from the 'drumming 
decasyllabon' of Marlowe to the wonderful plastic medium of the 
tragedies and romances: the steadily increasing use of feminine, light, 
and weak endings, of run-on lines and mid-line pauses and speech- 
endings. Compare the first extract, from 2 Henry VI, with that from 
The Tempest: the number of end-stopped lines, of pauses after the 
second foot, and quite simply their appearance on the printed page. 

Poetically, they illustrate the abandonment of diffuse and leisurely 
rhetoric and lyric, the greater concentration and naturalism of the 
imagery and its integration with the action and character. There is a 
notable advance about 1597 when Shakespeare wrote The Merchant 
of Venice (though the extract quoted looks back rather than forward, 
and is perhaps the last of the non-dramatic lyrical passages) and I Henry 
IV. And compare Hamlet and Claudio, in Measure for Measure, on 
the fear of death, the latter's speech being surely one of the most 
miraculous ever written, with infinite meaning packed into a few 
simple words: cold obstruction, delighted spirit, thrilling region, thick- 
ribbed ice. 

These achievements, technical and poetical, were at the same time 
dramatic, for the greater flexibility of the verse and compactness of 
the poetry led to an increased naturalism, subtler variation of the pace 
of the action,, and more delicate delineation and development of 
character. This last point is illustrated by the soliloquies of Richard 
III, Brutus, Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth. Richard's soliloquy is 
fine rhetoric, but he tells us little about himself beyond the fact that 
his deformity has driven his energy into the perverted channels of 
villainy; but the other four are self-revelations. Prince Henry has 
more in common with Richard than with the later tragic heroes: he 
too thinks outwardly, with neither conscious nor unconscious ex- 
ploration of self, and reveals only that he is a princely and calculating 


I know you all, and will awhile uphold 

The unyoked humour of your idleness: 

Yet herein will I imitate the sun, 

Who doth permit the base contagious clouds 

To smother up his beauty from the world, 

That, when he please again to be himself, 

Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at, 

By breaking through the foul and ugly mists 

Of vapours that did seem to strangle him. 

If all the year were playing holidays, 

To sport would be as tedious as to work; 

But when they seldom come they wish'd for come, 

And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents. 

So when this loose behaviour I throw off 

And pay the debt I never promised, 

By how much better than my word I am, 

By so much shall I falsify men's hopes; 

And like bright metal on a sullen ground, 

My reformation, glittering o'er my fault, 

Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes 

Than that which hath no foil to set it off. 

I'll so offend, to make offence a skill; 

Redeeming time when men think least I will. 

The speech is important, and is fine poetry, but technically it is 
immature and dramatically clumsy when compared with the soliloquies 
that were to follow. But then. Prince Henry was no tragic hero: only 
a good shallow young fellow who would have chipped bread well. 

The text and numbering of the lines are those of the Cambridge 
Edition. The dates of the plays can only be approximate. 

2 Henry VL 1590. (III. iii.) 

King. How fares my lord? speak, Beaufort, to thy sovereign. 
Beau. If thou be'st death, I'll give thee England's treasure, 

Enough to purchase such another island, 

So thou wilt let me live, and feel no pain. 
King. Ah, what a sign it is of evil life, 

Where death's approach is seen so terrible! 
War. Beaufort, it is thy sovereign speaks to thee. 
Beau. Bring me unto my trial when you will. 

Died he 1 not in his bed? where should he die? 

Can I make men live, whether they will or no? 

O, torture me no more! I will confess. 

Alive again? then show me where he is: 

1 The King's uncle, the Protector Gloucester, whom Cardinal Beaufort has had murdered. 
(See p. 344.) 


I'll give a thousand pound to look upon him. 
He hath no eyes, the dust hath blinded them. 
Comb down his hair; look, look! it stands upright, 
Like lime-twigs set to catch my winged soul. 
Give me some drink; and bid the apothecary 
Bring the strong poison that I bought of him. 

King. O thou eternal mover of the heavens, 

Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch! 
O, beat away the busy meddling fiend 
That lays strong siege unto this wretch's soul, 
And from his bosom purge this black despair! 

War. See, how the pangs of death do make him grin! 

Sal. Disturb him not; let him pass peaceably. 

King. Peace to his soul, if God's good pleasure be! 

Lord cardinal, if thou think'st on heaven's bliss, 
Hold up thy hand, make signal of thy hope. 
He dies, and makes no sign. O God, forgive him! 

War. So bad a death argues a monstrous life. 

King Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all. 

Close up his eyes and draw the curtain close; 
And let us all to meditation. 

3 Henry PL 1590. (I. iv. 125-140.) 

It needs not, nor it boots thee not, proud queen, 
Unless the adage must be verified, 
That beggars mounted run their horse to death. 
'Tis beauty that doth oft make women proud; 
But, God He knows, thy share thereof is small: 
'Tis virtue that doth make them most admired; 
The contrary doth make thee wonder'd at; 
'Tis government that makes them seem divine; 
The want thereof makes thee abominable: 
Thou art as opposite to every good 
As the Antipodes are unto us, 
Or as the south to the septentrion. 
O tiger's heart wrapp'd in a woman's hide! 1 
How couldst thou drain the life-blood of the child, 
To bid the father wipe his eyes withal, 
And yet be seen to bear a woman's face? 

I Henry VI. 1591. (I. i. 1-22.) 

Bedford. Hung be the heavens with bkck, yield day to night! 
Comets, importing change of times and states, 
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky, 

1 The line parodied by Greene. (See p. 29.) 


And with them scourge the bad revolting stars 
That have consented unto Henry's death! 
King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long! 
England ne'er lost a king of so much worth. 1 

G/ou. England ne'er had a king until his time. 
Virtue he had, deserving to command: 
His brandish'd sword did blind men with his beams: 
His arms spread wider than a dragon's wings; 
His sparkling eyes, replete with wrathful fire, 
More dazzled and drove back his enemies 
Than mid-day sun fierce bent against their faces. 
What should I say? his deeds exceed all speech: 
He ne'er lift up his hand but conquered. 

Exeter. We mourn in black: why mourn we not in blood? 
Henry is dead and never shall revive: 
Upon a wooden coffin we attend, 
And death's dishonourable victory 
We with our stately presence glorify, 
Like captives bound to a triumphant car. 

Richard 111. 1592. (1.1.1-31.) 

G/ou. Now is the winter of our discontent 

Made glorious summer by this sun of York; 

And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house 

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried. 

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths; 

Our bruised arms hung up for monuments; 

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings, 

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures. 

Grim-visaged war hath smooth'd his wrinkled front; 

And now instead of mounting barbed steeds 

To fright the souls of fearful adversaries, 

He capers nimbly in a lady's chamber 

To the lascivious pleasing of a lute. 

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, 

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass; 

I, that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty 

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph; 

I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion, 

Cheated of feature, by dissembling nature, 

Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time 

Into this breathing world, scarce half made up, 

And that so lamely and unfashionable 

That dogs bark at me as I halt by them; 

Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace, 

1 See p. 2ii 


Have no delight to pass away the time, 

Unless to spy my shadow in the sun, 

And descant on mine own deformity: 

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, 

To entertain these fair well-spoken days, 

I am determined to prove a vilkin, 

And hate the idle pleasures of these days. 

Titus Andronicus. 1592. (II. iv. 34-51.) 

O, that I knew thy heart; and knew the beast, 

That I might rail at him, to ease my mind! 

Sorrow concealed, like an oven stopp'd, 

Doth burn the heart to cinders where it is. 

Fair Philomel, why she but lost her tongue, 

And in a tedious sampler sew'd her mind: 

But, lovely niece, that mean is cut from thee; 

A craftier Tereus, cousin, hast thou met, 

And he hath cut those pretty fingers off, 

That could have better sew'd than Philomel. 

O, had the monster seen those lily hands 

Tremble, like aspen-leaves, upon a lute, 

And make the silken strings delight to kiss them, 

He would not then have touched them for his life! 

Or, had he heard the heavenly harmony 

Which that sweet tongue hath made, 

He would have dropped his knife, and fell asleep 

As Cerberus at the Thracian poet's feet. 

The Comedy of Errors. 1593. (HI- " 2 9'5 2 -) 

Sweet mistress, what your name is else, I know not, 

Nor by what wonder you do hit of mine, 
Less in your knowledge and your grace you show not 

Than our earth's wonder; more than earth divine 
Teach me, dear creature, how to think and speak; 

Lay open to my earthy-gross conceit, 
Smother'd in errors, feeble, shallow, weak, 

The folded meaning of your words' deceit. 
Against my soul's pure truth why labour you 

To make it wander in an unknown field? 
Are you a god? would you create me new? 

Transform me, then, and to your power I'll yield. 
But if that I am I, then well I know 

Your weeping sister is no wife of mine, 
Nor to her bed no homage do I owe: 

Far more, far more to you do I decline. 


O, train me not, sweet mermaid, with thy note, 
To drown me in thy sister's flood of tears: 

Sing, siren, for thyself, and I will dote: 

Spread o'er the silver waves thy golden hairs, 

And as a bed I'll take them, and there lie; 
And, in that glorious supposition, think 

He gains by death that hath such means to die. 

The Two Gentlemen of Verona. 1593. C 1 - "i- 7 g - 8 7-) 
Thus have I shunn'd the fire for fear of burning, 
And drench'd me in the sea, where I am drown'd. 
I fear'd to show my father Julia's letter, 
Lest he should take exceptions to my love; 
And with the vantage of mine own excuse 
Hath he excepted most against my love. 
O, how this spring of love resembleth 

The uncertain glory of an April day, 1 
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun, 

And by and by a cloud takes all away! 

Venus' and 4 donis. 1592-3. (289-306.) 

Look, when a painter would surpass the life 
In limning out a well proportion'd steed, 
His art with nature's workmanship at strife 
As if the dead the living should exceed; 
So did this horse excel a common one 
In shape, in courage, colour, pace and bone. 

Round-hoofed, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long, 
Broad breast, full eye, small head and nostril wide, 
High crest, short ears, straight legs and passing strong, 
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide: 
Look, what a horse should have he did not lack, 
Save a proud rider on so proud a back. 

Sometimes he scuds far off, and there he stares; 

Anon he starts at stirring of a feather; 

To bid the wind a base he now prepares, 

And whether he run or fly they know not whether; 
For through his mane and tail the high wind sings, 
Fanning the hairs, who wave like feathered wings. 

1 Sec p. 354. 


The Rape of Lucrece. 1593-4. (939-952.) 

Time's glory is to calm contending kings, 

To unmask falsehood and bring truth to light, 

To stamp the seal of time in aged things, 

To wake the morn and sentinel the night, 

To wrong the wronger till he render right, 
To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours 
And smear with dust their glittering golden towers; 

To fill with worm-holes stately monuments, 
To feed oblivion with decay of things, 
To blot old books and alter their contents, 
To pluck the quills from ancient ravens' wings, 
To dry the old oak's sap and cherish springs, 
To spoil antiquities of hammer'd steel 
And turn the giddy round of Fortune's wheel. 

Sonnets. 1593-6. '(Numbers 33 and 55.) 

Full many a glorious morning have I seen 
Flatter the mountain-tops with sovereign eye, 
Kissing with golden face the meadows green, 
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy; 
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride 
With ugly rack on his celestial face, 
And from the forlorn world his visage hide, 
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace: 
Even so my sun one early morn did shine 
With all-triumphant splendour on my brow; 
But, out, alack! he was but one hour mine, 
The region cloud hath masked him from me now. 

Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth; 

Sons of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth. 

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments 
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme; 
But you shall shine more bright in these contents 
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time. 
When wasteful war shall statues overturn, 
And broils root out the work of masonry, 
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick fire shall burn 
The living record of your memory. 
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity 
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room 
Even in the eyes of all posterity 
That wear this world out to the ending doom. 
So, till the judgement that yourself arise, 
You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes. 



Love's Labour's Lost. 1594. (IV. iii. 330-350.) 

A lover's eyes will gaze an eagle blind; 

A lover's ear will hear the lowest sound, 

When the suspicious head of theft is stopp'd: 

Love's feeling is more soft and sensible 

Than are the tender horns of cockled snails; 

Love's tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste: 

For valour, is not Love a Hercules, 

Still climbing trees in the Hesperides? 

Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical 

As bright Apollo's lute, strung with his hair; 

And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods 

Makes heaven drowsy with the harmony. 

Never durst poet touch a pen to write 

Until his ink ^were tempered with Love's sighs; 

O, then his lines would ravish savage ears, 

And plant in tyrants mild humility. 

From women's eyes this doctrine I derive: 

They sparkle still the right Promethean fire; 

They are the books, the arts, the academes, 

That show, contain and nourish all the world: 

Else none at all in aught proves excellent. 

Romeo and Juliet. 1595. (V. iii. 91-120.) 

O my love! my wife! 

Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath, 
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty: 
Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet 
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, 
And death's pale flag is not advanced there. . . . 

Ah, dear Juliet, 

Why art thou yet so fair? shall I believe 
That unsubstantial death is amorous, 
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps 
Thee here in dark to be his paramour? 
For fear of that, I still will stay with thee, 
And never from this palace of dim night 
Depart again: here, here will I remain 
With worms that are thy chamber-maids; O, here 
Will I set up my everlasting rest, 
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars 
From this world- wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last! 
Arms, take your kst embrace! and, lips, O you 
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss 
A dateless bargain to engrossing death! 


Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! 
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on 
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark. 
Here's to my love! O true apothecary! 
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die. 

Richard IL 1595. (III. ii. 144-170.) 

No matter where; of comfort no man speak: 

Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs; 

Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes 

Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. 

Let's choose executors and talk of wills: 

And yet not so, for what can we bequeath 

Save our deposed bodies to the ground? 

Our lands, our lives and all are Bolingbroke's, 

And nothing can we call our own but death, 

And that small model of the barren earth 

Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. 

For God's sake let us sit upon the ground 

And tell sad stories of the death of kings: 

How some have been deposed; some slain in war; 

Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; 

Some poison'd by their wives; some sleeping kill'd; 

All murder'd: for within the hollow crown 

That rounds the mortal temples of a king 

Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits, 

Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, 

Allowing him a breath, a little scene, 

To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks, 

Infusing him with self and vain conceit, 

As if this flesh which walls about our life 

Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus 

Comes at the last and with a little pin 

Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king! 

The Taming of the Shrew. 1596. (II. i. 231-254.) 

Pet. Now, by Saint George, I am too young for you. 

Kath. Yet you are wither'd. 

Pet. 'Tis with cares. 

Kath. I care not. 

Pet. Nay, hear you Kate: in sooth you scape not so. 

Kath. I chafe you, if I tarry: let me go. 

Pet. No, not a whit: I find you passing gentle. 

'Twas told me you were rough and coy and sullen, 

And now I find report a very liar; 


For thou art pleasant, gamesome, passing courteous. 

But slow in speech, yet sweet as spring-time flowers: 

Thou canst not frown, thou canst not look askance, 

Nor bite the lip, as angry wenches will, 

Nor hast thou pleasure to be cross in talk, 

But thou with mildness entertain'st thy wooers, 

With gentle conference, soft and affable. 

Why does the world report that Kate doth limp? 

O slanderous world! Kate like the hazel- twig 

Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue 

As hazel-nuts and sweeter than the kernels. 

O, let me see thee walk: thou dost not halt. 

Kath. Go, fool, and whom thou keep'st command. 

Pet. Did ever Dian so become a grove 

As Kate this chamber with her princely gait? 

O, be thou Dian, and let her be Kate; 

And then let Kate be chaste and Dian sportful. 

A Midsummer Night's Dream. 1596. (IV. i. 100-124.) 

The. Go, one of you, find out the forester; 
For now our observation is performed; 
And since we have the vaward of the day, 
My love* shall hear the music of my hounds. 
Uncouple in the western valley; let them go: 
Dispatch, I say, and find the forester. 
We will, fair queen, up to the mountain's top, 
And mark the musical confusion 
Of hounds and echo in conjunction. 

Hip. I was with Hercules and Cadmus once, 

When in a wood of Crete they bay'd the bear 
With hounds of Sparta: never did I hear 
Such gallant chiding; for, besides the groves, 
The skies, the fountains, every region near 
Seem'd all one mutual cry: I never heard 
So musical a discord, such sweet thunder. 

The. My hounds are bred out of the Spartan kind, 
So flew'd, so sanded; and their heads are hung 
With ears that sweep away the morning dew; 
Crook-knee'd, and dew-lapp'd like Thessalian bulls; 
Slow in pursuit, but match'd in mouth like bells, 
Each under each. A cry more tuneable 
Was never holla'd to, nor cheer'd with horn, 
In Crete, in Sparta, nor in Thessaly: 
Judge when you hear. But, soft! what nymphs are these? 


King John. 1597. (V. vii. 28-58.) 

John. Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room; 

It would not out at windows nor at doors. 

There is so hot a summer in my bosom, 

That all my bowels crumble up to dust: 

I am a scribbled form, drawn with a pen 

Upon a parchment, and against this fire 

Do I shrink up. 

P. Hen. How fares your Majesty? 

John. Poison'd, ill fare dead, forsook, cast off: 

And none of you will bid the winter come 

To thrust his icy fingers in my maw, 

Nor let my kingdom's rivers take their course 

Through my burn'd bosom, nor entreat the north 

To make his bleak winds kiss my parched lips 

And comfort me with cold. I do not ask you much, 

I beg cold comfort; and you are so strait 

And so ingrateful, you deny me that. 
P.Hen.O that there were some virtue in my tears, 

That might relieve you! 
John. The salt in them is hot. 

Within me is a hell; and there the poison 

Is as a fiend confined to tyrannize 

On unreprieveable condemned blood. 
Bast. Oh, I am scalded with my violent motion, 

And spleen of speed to see your majesty. 
John. O cousin, thou art come to set mine eye: 

The tackle of my heart is crack'd and burn'd, 

And all the shrouds wherewith my life should sail 

Are turned to one thread, one little hair: 

My heart hath one poor string to stay it by, 

Which holds but till thy news be uttered; 

And then all this thou seest is but a clod 

And module of confounded royalty. 

The Merchant of Venice. 1597. (V. i. 1-24.) 

Lor. The moon shines bright: in such a^ night as this, 
When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees 
And they did make no noise, in such a night 
Troilus methinks mounted the Troyan walls, 
And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents, 
Where Cressid lay that night. 

Jes. In such a night 

Did Thisbe fearfully o'ertrip the dew, 
And saw the lion's shadow ere himself, 
And ran dismay 'd away. 


Lor. In such a night 

Stood Dido with a willow in her hand 

Upon the wild sea banks, and waft her love 

To come again to Carthage. 
Jes. In such a night 

Medea gathered the enchanted herbs 

That did renew old JEson. 
Lor. In such a night 

Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew, 

And with an unthrift love did run from Venice 

As far as Belmont. 
Jes. In such a night 

Did young Lorenzo swear he loved her well, 

Stealing her soul with many vows of faith 

And ne'er a true one. 
Lor. In such a night 

Did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew, 

Slander her love, and he forgave it her. 
Jes. I would out-night you, did no body come; 

But, hark, I hear the footing of a man. 1 

Henry IV, Part I. 1597. (I. Hi. 228-256.) 

Hot. All studies here I solemnly defy, 

Save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke: 
And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales, 
But that I think his father loves him not 
And would be glad he met with some mischance, 
I would have him poison'd with a pot of ale. 

Wor. Farewell, kinsman: I'll talk to you 

When you are better temper'd to attend. 

Nor. Why, what a wasp-stung and impatient fool 
Art thou to break into this woman's mood, 
Tying thine ear to no tongue but thine own! 

Hot. Why, look you, I am whipp'd and scourged with rods. 
Nettled, and stung with pismires, when I hear 
Of this vile politician, Bolingbroke. 
In Richard's time, what do you call the place? 
A plague upon it, it is in Gloucestershire; 
'Twas where the madcap duke his uncle kept, 
His uncle York; where I first bow'd my knee 
Unto this king of smiles, this Bolingbroke, 
When you and he came back from Ravenspurgh. 

Nor. At Berkley-castle. 

1 See p. 383. 


Hot. You say true: 

Why, what a candy deal of courtesy 

This fawning greyhound then did proffer me! 

Look, 'when his infant fortune came to age', 

And 'gentle Harry Percy', and 'kind cousin'; 

O, the devil take such cozeners! God forgive me! 

Good uncle, tell your tale; I have done. 

Henry IV, Part 2. 1598. (II. iii. 9-36.) 

O yet, for God's sake, go not to these wars! 

The time was, father, that you broke your word, 

When you were more endear'd to it than now; 

When your own Percy, when my heart's dear Harry, 

Threw many a northward look to see his father 

Bring up his powers; but he did long in vain. 

Who then persuaded you to stay at home? 

There were two honours lost, yours and your son's, 

For yours, the God of heaven brighten it! 

For his, it stuck upon him as the sun 

In the grey vault of heaven, and by his light 

Did all the chivalry of England move 

To do brave acts: he was indeed the glass 

Wherein the noble youth did dress themselves; 

He had no legs that practised not his gait; 

And speaking thick, which nature made his blemish, 

Became the accents of the valiant; 

For those that could speak low and tardily 

Would turn their own perfection to abuse, 

To seem like him: so that in speech, in gait, 

In diet, in affections of delight, 

In military rules, humours of blood, 

He was the mark and glass, copy and book, 

That fashioned others. And him, O wondrous him! 

O miracle of men! him did you leave, 

Second to none, unseconded by you, 

To look upon the hideous god of war 

In disadvantage. 

The Merry Wives of Windsor. 1598. (IV. iv. 27-37.) 

There is an old tale goes that Herne the hunter, 

Sometime a keeper here in Windsor forest, 

Doth all the winter-time, at still midnight, 

Walk round about an oak, with great ragg'd horns; 

And there he blasts the tree, and takes the cattle, 

And makes milch-kine yield blood, and shakes a chain 


In a most hideous and dreadful manner: 

You have heard of such a spirit; and well you know 

The superstitious idle-headed eld 

Received, and did deliver to our age, 

The tale of Herne the hunter for a truth. 

Henry V. 1599. (I. ii. 184-204.) 

Therefore doth heaven divide 
The state of man in divers functions, 
Setting endeavour in continual motion; 
To which is fixed, as an aim or butt, 
Obedience: for so work the honey-bees, 
Creatures that by a rule in nature teach 
The act of order to a peopled kingdom. 
They have a king and officers of sorts; 
Where some, like magistrates correct at home, 
Others, like merchants, venture trade abroad, 
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings, 
Make boot upon the summer's velvet buds, 
Which pillage they with merry march bring home 
To the tent-royal of their emperor; 
Who, busied in his majesty, surveys 
The singing masons building roofs of gold, 
The civil citizens kneading up the honey, 
The poor mechanic porters crowding in 
Their heavy burdens at his narrow gate, 
The sad-eyed justice with his surly hum, 
Delivering o'er to executors pale 
The lazy yawning drone. 

Much Ado About Nothing. 1599. (V. i. 15-38.) 

If such a one will smile, and stroke his beard, 
Bid sorrow wag, cry 'hem!' when he should groan, 
Patch grief with proverbs, make misfortune drunk 
With candle-wasters; bring him yet to me, 
And I of him will gather patience. 
But there is no such man: for, brother, men 
Can counsel and speak comfort to that grief 
Which they themselves not feel; but, tasting it, 
Their counsel turns to passion, which before 
Would give preceptial medicine to rage, 
Fetter strong madness in a silken thread, 
Charm ache with air, and agony with words: 
No, no; 'tis all men's office to speak patience 
To those that wring under the load of sorrow, 


But no man's virtue nor sufficiency, 
To be so moral when he shall endure 
The like himself. Therefore give me no counsel: 
My griefs cry louder than advertisement . . . 
I pray thee, peace. I will be flesh and blood; 
For there was never yet philosopher 
That could endure the toothache patiently, 
However they have writ the style of gcds, 
And made a push at chance and sufferance. 

As Ton Like It. 1600. (II. vii. 70-87.) 

Why, who cries out on pride, 

That can therein tax any private party? 

Doth it not flow as hugely as the sea, 

Till that the weary very means do ebb? 

What woman in the city do I name, 

When that I say the city-woman bears 

The cost of princes on unworthy shoulders? 

Who can come in and say that I mean her, 

When such a one as she such is her neighbour? 

Or what is he of basest function, 

That says his bravery is not on my cost, 

Thinking that I mean him, but therein suits 

His folly to the mettle of my speech? 

There then; how then? what then? Let me see wherein 

My tongue hath wrong'd him: if it do him right, 

Then he hath wrong'd himself; if he be free, 

Why then my taxing like a wild-goose flies, 

Unclaim'd of any man. 

Twelfth Night. 1600. (II. iv. 92-123.) 

Duke. There is no woman's sides 

Can bide the beating of so strong a passion 
As love doth give my heart; no woman's heart 
So big, to hold so much; they lack retention. 
Alas, their love may be call'd appetite, 
No motion of the liver, but the palate, 
That suffer surfeit, cloyment and revolt; 
But mine is all as hungry as the sea, 
And can digest as much: make no compare 
Between that love a woman can bear me 
And that I owe Olivia. 

Fio. Ay, but I know, 

Duke. What dost thou know? 


Flo. Too well what love women to men may owe: 
In faith, they are as true of heart as we. 
My father had a daughter loved a man, 
As it might be, perhaps, were I a woman, 
I should your lordship. 

Duke. And what's her history? 

Fio. A blank, my lord. She never told her love, 
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, 
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought; 
And with a green and yellow melancholy 
She sat like patience on a monument, 
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed? 
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed 
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove 
Much in our vows, but little in our love. 

Duke. But died thy sister of her love, my boy? 

Flo. I am all the daughters of my father's house, 
And all the brothers too: and yet I know not. 
Sir, shall I to this lady? 

Duke. Ay, that's the theme. 

To her in haste; give her this jewel; say, 
My love can give no place, bide no denay. 

Julius Casar. 1601. (II. i. 10-34.) 

It mifst be by his death: and, for my part, 

I know no personal cause to spurn at him, 

But for the general. He would be crown' d: 

How that might change his nature, there's the question: 

It is the bright day that brings forth the adder; 

And that craves wary walking. Crown him? that; 

And then, I grant, we put a sting in him, 

That at his will he may do danger with. 

The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins 

Remorse from power: and, to speak truth of Caesar, 

I have not known when his affections sway'd 

More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof, 

That lowliness is young ambition's ladder, 

Whereto the climber-upward turns his face; 

But when he once attains the upmost round, 

He then unto the ladder turns his back, 

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees 

By which he did ascend: so Caesar may; 

Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel 

Will bear no colour for the thing he is, 

Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented, 

Would run to these and these extremities: 


And therefore think him as a serpent's egg 

Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous, 

And kill him in the shell. 

Hamlet. 1601. (III. i. 56-88.) 

To be, or not to be: that is the question: 

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 

And by opposing end them. To die: to sleep; 

No more; and by a sleep to say we end 

The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks 

That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation 

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die: to sleep; 

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; 

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, 

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, 

Must give us pause: there's the respect 

That makes calamity of so long life; 

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 

The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely, 

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, 

The insolence of office, and the spurns 

That patient merit of the unworthy takes, 

When he himself might his quietus make 

With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, 

To grunt and sweat under a weary life, 

But that the dread of something after death, 

The undiscover'd country from whose bourn 

No traveller returns, puzzles the will, 

And makes us rather bear those ills we have 

Than fly to others that we know not of? 

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all, 

And thus the native hue of resolution 

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, 

And enterprises of great pitch and moment 

With this regard their currents turn awry 

And lose the name of action. 

Troilus and Cressida. 1602. (III. iii. 145-179.) 

Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back 

Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, 

A great-sized monster of ingratitudes: 

Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devour'd 

As fast as they are made, forgot as soon 


As done: perseverance, dear my lord, 

Keeps honour bright: to have done, is to hang 

Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail 

In monumental mockery. Take the instant way; 

For honour travels in a strait so narrow, 

Where one but goes abreast: keep then the path; 

For emulation hath a thousand sons 

That one by one pursue: if you give way, 

Or hedge aside from the direct forthright, 

Like to an enter'd tide they all rush by 

And leave you hindmost: 

Or, like a gallant horse fall'n in first rank, 

Lie there for pavement to the abject rear, 

O'er-run and trampled on: then what they do in present, 

Though less than yours in past, must o'ertop yours; 

For time is like a fashionable host 

That slightly shakes his parting guest by the hand, 

And with his arms outstretch'd, as he would fly, 

Grasps in the comer: welcome ever smiles, 

And farewell goes out sighing. O, let not virtue seek 

Remuneration for the thing it was; 

For beauty, wit, 

High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, 

Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all 

To envious and calumniating time. 

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin; 

That all with one consent praise new-born gawds, 

Though they are made and moulded of things past, 

And give to dust that is a little gilt 

More laud than gilt o'er dusted. 

Mi's Well that Ends Well. 1603. (I. ii. 45-67.) 

King. Such a man 

Might be a copy to these younger times; 
Which, follow'd well, would demonstrate them now 
But goers backward. 

Bertram. His good remembrance, sir, 

Lies richer in your thoughts than on his tomb; 
So in approof lives not his epitaph 
As in your royal speech. 

King. Would I were with him! He would always say 
Methinks I hear him now; his pkusive words 
He scatter'd not in ears, but grafted them, 
To grow there and to bear, 'Let me not live', 
This his good melancholy oft began, 


On the catastrophe and heel of pastime, 

When it was out, 'Let me not live', quoth he, 

* After my flame lacks oil, to be the snuff 

Of younger spirits, whose apprehensive senses 

All but new things disdain; whose judgements are 

Mere fathers of their garments; whose constancies 

Expire before their fashions/ This he wish'd: 

I after him do after him wish too, 

Since I nor wax nor honey can bring home, 

I quickly were dissolved from my hive, 

To give some labourers room. 

Measure for Measure, 1603. (III. i. 114-152.) 

Claud. If it were damnable, he being so wise, 

Why would he for the momentary trick 

Be perdurably fined? O Isabel! 
Isab. What says my brother? 

Claud. Death is a fearful thing. 

Isab. And shamed life a hateful. 
Claud. Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; 

To lie in cold obstruction and to rot; 

This sensible warm motion to become 

A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit 

To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside 

In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice; 

To be imprison 'd in the viewless winds, 

And blown with restless violence round about 

The pendent world: or to be worse than worst 

Of those that lawless and incertain thought 

Imagine howling: 'tis too horrible! 

The weariest and most loathed worldly life 

That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment 

Can lay on nature is a paradise 

To what we fear of death. 
Isab. Alas, alas! 
Claud. Sweet sister, let me live: 

What sin you do to save a brother's life, 

Nature dispenses with the deed so far 

That it becomes a virtue. 
Isab. O you beast! 

O faithless coward! O dishonest wretch! 

Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? 

Is 't not a kind of incest, to take life 

From thine own sister's shame? What should I think? 

Heaven shield my mother play'd my father fair! 

For such a warped slip of wilderness 


Ne'er issued from his blood. Take my defiance! 

Die, perish! Might but my bending down 

Reprieve thee from thy fate, it should proceed: 

I'll pray a-thousand prayers for thy death, 

No word to save thee. 
Claud. Nay, hear me, Isabel. 
I sab. O, fie, fie, fie! 

Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade. 

Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd: 

'Tis best that thou diest quickly. 

Othello. 1604. ( V - 1-22.) 

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul: 

Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! 

It is the cause. Yet I'll not shed her blood, 

Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow 

And smooth as monumental alabaster. 

Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men. 

Put out the light, and then put out the light: 

If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, 

I can again thy former light restore, 

Should I repent me: but once put out thy light, 

Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature, 

I know not where is that Promethean heat 

That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose, 

I cannot give it vital growth again, 

It must needs wither: I'll smell it on the tree. 

Ah, balmy breath, that dost almost persuade 

Justice to break her sword! One more, one more: 

Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kill thee, 

And love thee after: one more, and this the last: 

So sweet was ne'er so fatal. I must weep, 

But they are cruel tears: this sorrow's heavenly; 

It strikes where it doth love. 

Timon of Athens. 1605. (V. i. 195-221.) 

Commend me to them; 

And tell them that, to ease them of their griefs, 
Their fears of hostile strokes, their aches, losses, 
Their pangs of love, with other incident throes 
That nature's fragile vessel doth sustain 
In life's uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them: 
I'll teach them to prevent wild Alcibiades' wrath . . . 
I have a tree, which grows here in my close, 
That mine own use invites me to cut down, 


And shortly must I fell it: tell my friends, 

Tell Athens, in the sequence of degree 

From high to low throughout, that whoso please 

To stop affliction, let him take his haste, 

Come hither ere my tree hath felt the axe, 

And hang himself: I pray you, do my greeting . . . 

Come not to me again: but say to Athens, 

Timon hath made his everlasting mansion 

Upon the beached verge of the salt flood; 

Who once a day with his embossed froth 

The turbulent surge shall cover: thither come, 

And let my grave-stone be your oracle. 

Lips, let sour words go by and language end: 

What is amiss, plague and infection mend! 

Graves only be men's works, and death their gain! 

Sun, hide thy beams! Timon hath done his reign. 1 

King Lear. 1606. (II. iv. 263-285.) 

O, reason not the need: our basest beggars 

Are in the poorest things superfluous: 

Allow not nature more than nature needs, 

Man's life is cheap as beast's: thou art a lady; 

If only to go warm were gorgeous, 

Why, nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear'st, 

Which scarcely keeps thee warm. But for true need, 

You heavens, give me that patience, patience I need! 

You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, 

As full of grief as age; wretched in both: 

If it be you that stirs these daughters' hearts 

Against their father, fool me not so much 

To bear it tamely; touch me with noble anger, 

And let not women's weapons, water-drops, 

Stain my man's cheeks! No, you unnatural hags, 

I will have such revenges on you both 

That all the world shall I will do such things, 

What they are, yet I know not, but they shall be 

The terrors of the earth. You think I'll weep; 

No, I'll not weep: 

I have full cause of weeping; but this heart 

Shall break into a hundred thousand flaws, 

Or ere I'll weep. O fool, I shall go mad! 

Macbeth. 1606. (I. vii. 1-28.) 

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well 
It were done quickly: if the assassination 
1 See p. 339. 


Could trammel up the consequence, and catch, 
With his surcease, success; that but this blow 
Might be the be-all and the end-all here, 
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, 
We 'Id jump the life to come. But in these cases 
We still have judgement here; that we but teach 
Bloody instructions, which being taught return 
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice 
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice 
To our own lips. He's here in double trust: 
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, 
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, 
Who should against his murderer shut the door, 
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan 
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been 
So clear in his great office, that his virtues 
Will plead like angels trumpet- ton gued against 
The deep damnation of his taking-ofF; 
And pity, like a naked new-born babe, 
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin horsed 
Upon the sightless couriers of the air, 
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye, 
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur 
To prick the sides of my intent, but only 
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself 
And falls on the other. 

dntony and Cleopatra. 1607. (V. ii. 278-326.) 

Cleo. Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have 
Immortal longings in me: now no more 
The juice of Egypt's grape shall moist this lip: 
Yare, yare, good Iras; quick. Methinks I hear 
Antony call; I see him rouse himself 
To praise my noble act; I hear him mock 
The luck of Caesar, which the gods give men 
To excuse their after wrath. Husband, I come 
Now to that name my courage prove my title! 
I am fire and air; my other elements 
I give to baser life. So; have you done? 
Come then and take the last warmth of my lips. 
Farewell, kind Charmian; Iras, long farewell. 

(Kisses them. Iras falls an 
Have I the aspic in my lips? Dost fall? 
If thou and nature can so gently part, 
The stroke of death is as a lover's pinch, 


Which hurts, and is desired. Dost thou lie still? 
If thus thou vanishest, thou telPst the world 

It is not worth leave-taking. 
Char. Dissolve, thick cloud, and rain, that I may say 

The gods themselves do weep! 
Cleo. This proves me base: 

If she first meet the curled Antony, 

He'll make demand of her, and spend that kiss 

Which is my heaven to have. Come thou mortal wretch, 

(To an asp, which she applies to her breast. 

With thy sharp teeth the knot intrinsicate 

Of life at once untie: poor venomous fool, 

Be angry, and dispatch. O, couldst thou speak, 

That I might hear thee call great Csesar ass 


Char. O eastern star! 

Cleo. Peace, peace! 

Dost thou not see my baby at my breast, 

That sucks the nurse asleep? 

Char. O, break! O, break! 

Cleo. As sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle, 

O Antony! Nay, I will take thee too: 

(Applying another asp to her arm. 

What should I stay (Dies. 

Char. In this vile world? So, fare thee well. 

Now boast thee death, in thy possession lies 

A lass unparallel'd. Downy windows, close; 

And golden Phoebus never be beheld 

Of eyes again so royal! Your crown's awry; 

I'll mend it, and then play. 

Enter Guard. 

Gd. i. Where is the queen? 

Char. Speak softly, wake her not. 

Gd. i . Caesar hath sent 

Char. Too slow a messenger. 

(Applies an asp. 

O, come apace, dispatch: I partly feel thee. 
Gd. i . Approach, ho! All's not well: Caesar's beguiled. 
Gd. 2. There's Dolabella sent from Csesar; call him. 
Gd. i . What work is here! Charmian, is this well done? 
Char. It is well done, and fitting for a princess 

Descended of so many royal kings. 

Ah, soldier! 1 (Dies. 

1 Sec p. 339. 



Coriolanus. 1607. (IV. v. 53-84.) 

Auf. Whence comest thou? what wouldst thou? thy name? 
Why speak'st not? speak, man: what's thy name? 

Cor. ( Unmuffling) If, Tullus, 

Not yet thou knowest me, and, seeing me, dost not 
Think me for the man I am, necessity 
Commands me name myself. 

Auf. What is thy name? 

Cor. A name unmusical to the Volscian's ears, 
And harsh in sound to thine. 

Auf. Say, what's thy name? 

Thou hast a grim appearance, and thy face 
Bears a command in't; though thy tackle's torn, 
Thou show'st a noble vessel; what's thy name? 

Cor. Prepare thy brow to frown: know'st thou me yet? 

Auf. I know thee not: thy name? 

Cor. My name is Caius Marcius, who hath done 
To thee particularly, and to all the Volsces, 
Great hurt and mischief; thereto witness may 
My surname Coriolanus: the painful service, 
The extreme dangers, and the drops of blood 
Shed for my thankless country, are requited 
But with that surname; a good memory, 
And witness of the malice and displeasure 
Wnich thou shouldst bear me: only that name remains: 
The cruelty and envy of the people, 
Permitted by our dastard nobles, who 
Have all forsook me, hath devour'd the rest; 
And suffer' d me by the voice of slaves to be 
Hoop'd out of Rome. Now, this extremity 
Hath brought me to thy hearth: not out of hope 
Mistake me not to save my life, for if 
I had fear'd death, of all men i' the world 
I would have Voided thee; but in mere spite, 
To be full quit of those my banishers, 
Stand I before thee here. . . .* 

Pericles. 1608. (III. i. 1-64.) 

Thou god of this great vast, rebuke these surges, 
Which wash both heaven and hell; and thou, that hast 
Upon the winds command, bind them in brass, 
Having call'd them from the deep! O, still 
Thy deafening dreadful thunders; gently quench 
Thy nimble sulphurous flashes! O, how, Lychorida, 
How does my queen? Thou stormest venomously; 
1 See p. 339. 


Wilt thou spit all thyself? The seaman's whistle 

Is as a whisper in the ears of death, 

Unheard. Lychorida! Lucina, O 

Divinest patroness and midwife gentle 

To those that cry by night, convey thy deity 

Aboard our dancing boat; make swift the pangs 

Of my queen's travails . . . 

A terrible childbed hast thou had, my dear; 

No light, no fire: the unfriendly elements 

Forgot thee utterly; nor have I time 

To give thee hallo w'd to thy grave, but straight 

Must cast thee, scarcely coffin'd, in the ooze; 

Where, for a monument upon thy bones, 

And aye-remaining lamps, the belching whale 

And humming water must o'er whelm thy corpse, 

Lying with simple shells. 

Cymbeline. 1609. (II. ii. 1 1-33.) 

The crickets sing, and man's o'er-labour'd sense 

Repairs itself by rest. Our Tarquin thus 

Did softly press the rushes, ere he waken'd 

The chastity he wounded. Cytherea, 

How bravely thou becomest thy bed! fresh lily! 

And whiter than the sheets! That I might touch! 

But kiss; one kiss! Rubies unparagon'd, 

How dearly they do't! 'Tis her breathing that 

Perfumes the chamber thus: the flame o' the taper 

Bows toward her, and would under-peep her lids 

To see the enclosed lights, now canopied 

Under these windows, white and azure, laced 

With blue of heaven's own tinct. But my design, 

To note the chamber: I will write all down: 

Such and such pictures; there the window; such 

The adornment of her bed; the arras, figures, 

Why, such and such; and the contents o' the story. 

Ah, but some natural notes about her body 

Above ten thousand meaner moveables 

Would testify, to enrich mine inventory. 

O sleep, thou ape of death, lie dull upon her! 

And be her sense but as a monument, 

Thus in a chapel lying. 

The Winter's Tale. 1610. (IV. iv. 468-496.) 

Flor. It cannot fail but by 

The violation of my faith; and then 
Let nature crush the sides o' the earth together 


And mar the seeds within! Lift up thy looks: 
From my succession wipe me, father, I 
Am heir to my affection. 

Cam. Be advised. 

F/or. I am, and by my fancy: if my reason 

Will thereto be obedient, I have reason; 

If not, my senses, better pleased with madness, 

Do bid it welcome. 

Cam. This is desperate, sir. 

F/or. So call it: but it does fulfil my vow; 

I needs must think it honesty. Camillo, 

Not for Bohemia, nor the pomp that may 

Be thereat glean 'd; for all the sun sees, or 

The close earth wombs, or the profound seas hide 

In unknown fathoms, will I break my oath 

To this my fair beloved: therefore, I pray you, 

As you have ever been my father's honour'd friend, 

When he shall miss me, as, in faith, I mean not 

To see him any more, cast your good counsels 

Upon his passion: let myself and fortune 

Tug for the time to come. This you may know 

And so deliver, I am put to sea 

With her whom here I cannot hold on shore; 

And most opportune to our need I have 

A Vessel rides fast by, but not prepared 

For this design. What course I mean to hold 

Shall nothing benefit your knowledge, nor 

Concern me the reporting. 

The Tempest. 1611. (11.1.234-259.) 

Ant. Will you grant with me 

That Ferdinand is drown'd? 

Seb. He's gone. 

Ant. Then, tell me, 

Who's the next heir to Naples? 

Sel>. Claribel. 

Ant. She that is queen of Tunis; she that dwells 

Ten leagues beyond man's life; she that from Naples 

Can have no note, unless the sun were post, 

The man i' the moon's too slow, till new-born chins 

Be rough and razorable; she that from whom 

We all were sea-swallowed, though some cast again, 

And by that destiny, to perform an act 

Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come, 

Is yours and my discharge. 


Self. What stuff is this! How say you? 

'Tis true, my brother's daughter's queen of Tunis; 

So is she heir of Naples; 'twixt which regions 

There is some space. 
Ant. A space whose every cubit 

Seems to cry out, 'How shall that Ckribel 

Measure us back to Naples? Keep in Tunis, 

And let Sebastian wake.' Say, this were death 

That now hath seized them; why, they were no worse 

Than now they are. There be that can rule Naples 

As well as he that sleeps; lords that can prate 

As amply and unnecessarily 

As this Gonzalo; I myself could make 

A chough of as deep chat. O, that you bore 

The mind that I do! what a sleep were this 

For your advancement! Do you understand me? 

Henry nil. 1612. (1.1.13-38.) 

Then you lost 

The view of earthly glory: men might say, 
Till this time pomp was single, but now married 
To one above itself. Each following day 
Became the next day's master, till the kst 
Made former wonders its. To-day the French, 
All clinquant, all in gold, like heathen gods, 
Shone down the English; and to-morrow they 
Made Britain India: every man that stood 
Show'd like a mine. Their dwarfish pages were 
As cherubins, all gilt: the madams too, 
Not used to toil, did almost sweat to bear 
The pride upon them, that their very labour 
Was to them as a painting: now this masque 
Was cried incomparable; and the ensuing night 
Made it a fool and beggar. The two kings, 
Equal in lustre, were now best, now worst, 
As presence did present them; him in eye 
Still him in praise; and being present both, 
'Twas said they saw but one, and no discerner 
Durst wag his tongue in censure. When these suns 
For so they phrase 'em by their heralds challenged 
The noble spirits to arms, they did perform 
Beyond thought's compass; that former fabulous story, 
Being now seen possible enough, got credit, 
That Bevis was believed. 


The Two Noble Kinsmen. 1613? (V. i. 69-97.) 

Our stars must glister with new fire, or be 
To-day extinct; our argument is love, 
Which if the goddess of it grant, she gives 
Victory too: then blend your spirits with mine, 
You, whose free nobleness do make my cause 
Your personal hazard: to the goddess Venus 
Commend we our proceeding, and implore 
Her power unto our party. 
Hail, sovereign queen of secrets, who hast power 
To call the fiercest tyrant from his rage, 
To weep unto a girl; that hast the might 
Even with an eye-glance to choke Mars's drum, 
And turn th'alarm to whispers; that canst make 
A cripple flourish with his crutch, and cure him 
Before Apollo; that mayst force the king 
To be his subject's vassal, and induce 
Stale gravity to dance; the polled bachelor 
Whose youth, like wanton boys through bonfires, 
Have skipt thy flame at seventy thou canst catch, 
And make him, to the scorn of his hoarse throat, 
Abuse young lays of love: what godlike power 
Hast thou not power upon? to Phoebus thou 
Add!st flames, hotter than his; the heavenly fires 
Did scorch his mortal son, thine him; the huntress 
All moist and cold, some say, began to throw 
Her bow away, and sigh: take to thy grace 
Me, thy vow'd soldier, who do bear thy yoke 
As 'twere a wreath of roses, yet is heavier 
Than lead itself, stings more than nettles. 

Four examples of Shakespeare's prose are added. They show some- 
thing the same progress as the verse: from the stiff and stylised to a 
graceful and apparent naturalism; from the artifice of Lyly, the 
elaborate antitheses and quibbles of Love's Labour's Lost, through the 
brilliantly polished speech of Benedick and Beatrice, to the greater 
ease and freedom of the dialogue in Hamlet, and the noble simplicity 
of the tragic prose in Macbeth. This is a rapid generalisation: the 
distance travelled in the evolution of prose as a dramatic medium is 
inevitably less spectacular, and development is less consistent: there is 
comparatively simple early prose and comparatively artificial later 
prose, but generally speaking the early work is more stiff, artificial, 
and angular, the later more flexible, various and dynamic: in a word, 
more dramatic. 


Love's Labour's Lost. 1594. (IV. iii.) 

Biron. The king he is hunting the deer; I am coursing myself: they 
have pitched a toil; I am toiling in a pitch, pitch that defiles: defile! 
a foul word. Well, set thee down, sorrow! for so they say the fool said, 
and so say I, and I the fool; well proved, wit! By the Lord, this love 
is as mad as Ajax: it kills sheep; it kills me, I a sheep: well proved again 
o' my side! I will not love: if I do, hang me; i* faith, I will not. O, but 
her eye, by this light, but for her eye, I would not love her; yes, for 
her two eyes. Well, I do nothing in the world but lie, and lie in my 
throat. By heaven, I do love: and it hath taught me to rhyme, and to be 
melancholy; and here is part of my rhyme, and here my melancholy. 
Well, she hath one o' my sonnets already: the clown bore it, the fool 
sent it, and the lady hath it: sweet clown, sweeter fool, sweetest lady! 
By the world, I would not care a pin, if the other three were in. Here 
comes one with a paper: God give him grace to groan! 

Much Ado About Nothing. 1599. (II. iii.) 

Benedick. May I be so converted, and see with these eyes? I cannot 
tell; I think not: I will not be sworn but love may transform me to an 
oyster; but I'll take my oath on it, till he have made an oyster of me, he 
shall never make me such a fool. One woman is fair, yet I am well; 
another is wise, yet I am well; another virtuous, yet I am well: but till 
all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace. 
Rich she shall be, that's certain; wise, or I'll none; virtuous, or I'll never 
cheapen her; fair, or I'll never look on her; mild, or come not near me; 
noble, or not I for an angel; of good discourse, an excellent musician, 
and her hair shall be of what colour it please God. Ha! the prince and 
Monsieur Love! I will hide me in the arbour. 

Hamlet. 1601. (III. ii.) 

Hamlet. O, the recorders! let me see one. To withdraw with you: 
why do you go about to recover the wind of me, as if you would drive 
me into a toil? 

Guildenstern. O, my lord, if my duty be too bold, my love is too 

Ham. I do not well understand that. Will you play upon this pipe? 

Gut I. My lord, I cannot. 

Ham. I pray you. 

Gui!. Believe me, I cannot. 

Ham. I do beseech you. 

Gull. I know no touch of it, my lord. 

Ham. It is as easy as lying: govern these ventages with your fingers 
and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most 
eloquent music. Look you, these are the stops. 


Gut/. But these cannot I command to any utterance of harmony; I 
have not the skill. 

Ham. Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! 
You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you 
would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from 
my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, 
excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, 
do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what 
instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play 
upon me. 

Macbeth. 1606. (V. i.) 

Lady Macbeth. Out, damned spot! out, I say! One: two: why, then 
'tis time to do't. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? 
What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to 
account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so 
much blood in him? 

Doctor. Do you mark that? 

Lady M. The thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? What, 
will these hands ne'er be clean? No more o' that, my lord, no more o' 
that: you mar all with this starting. 

Doct. Go to, go to: you have known what you should not. 

Gentlewoman. She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that: 
heaven knows what she has known. 

Lady M. Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of 
Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh! 

Doct. What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charged. 

Gent. I would not have such a heart in my bosom for the dignity o 
the whole body. 

Doct. Well, well, well, 

Gent. Pray God it be, sir. 

Doct. This disease is beyond my practice: yet I have known those 
which have walked in their sleep who have died holily in their beds. 

Lady M. Wash your hands; put on your nightgown; look not so pale: 
I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave. 

Doct. Even so? 

Lady M. To bed, to bed; there's knocking at the gate: come, come, 
come, come, give me your hand: what's done cannot be undone: to bed, 
to bed, to bed. 




N his Poetics Aristotle maintains that in tragedy character 
subsidiary to action: 

Most important of all is the structure of the incidents. For Tragedy 
isjan jmitationj not pf men, .but of an action and of life^andjife consists 
in action^and its end is a mode of action, not a quality . Now character 
Determines men's qualities, but it is by their actions that they are happy 
^or the reverse. Dramatic action, therefore, is not with a view to the 
representation of character: character comes in as subsidiary to the 
actions. Hence the incidents and the plot are the end of tragedy; and 
the end is the chief thing of all. Again, without action there cannot ,be 
a_ tragedy; there may be without character. ) 

The last sentence is true enough, though of course there need not be 
violent physical action; and it is equally true of comedy and of all 
other forms of drama. But Greek tragedy, the only tragedy with 
which Aristotle was acquainted, was religious in origin, as was indeed 
modern European drama, but unlike the latter it never lost its religious 
significance. Its theme was the well-known story of some great 
national hero whose actions were powerful to influence for good or 
ill the fortunes of his countrymen; its method was an interpretation 
of the inevitable event. The action, therefore, was the important 
thing, the man who performed or suffered it the representative of the 
nation; he was Man rather than a particular man. 

Nor was the drama of the Middle Ages concerned with the indi- 
vidual, but with Everyman and his relation to God. With the 
Renaissance, however, came the emancipation of man through his 
discovery of his physical, mental, and spiritual powers; all things 
seemed possible to his proud and soaring imagination, and instead of 
a generalisation man became an individual, each one with unique and 
wonderful potentialities. In sculpture, painting, and stained glass we 
can watch this change taking place from the conventionalised figures 
of the Middle Ages to the flesh and blood of the new world; and as 
the visual arts began to represent the outward appearance of real men 
and women,so the drama began to represent their inner qualities, that 
is, their characters. It was no longer concerned merely with a few 
stock figures and foreknown situations, with CEdipus or Agamemnon, 
but with any of the multitudinous characters of the real world, with 



Shylock and Hamlet, with Falstaff as well as with Henry IV. In the 
hands of Shakespeare and some of his contemporaries drama became 
more than an imitation of an action, it became the 'j^pjection of 
characterjfljic^ and embodiment, as it were, jjn 

vjsjBIe action of hi? abstract qualities. One of the things which, 
according to Coleridge, particularly distinguishes Shakespeare's plays 
5s the 'independence of the dramatic interest on the plot. The interest 
in the plot is always in fact on account of the characters, not vice 
versa, as in almost all other writers; the plot is a mere canvass and no 
more.' As Dryden said with reference to another matter, 'It is not 
enough that Aristotle has said so, for Aristotle drew his models of 
tragedy from Sophocles and Euripides: and, if he had seen ours, might 
have changed his mind', and might have admitted that injShakespeare 
and the modern drama action is subsidiary to and dependent upon 

The essence of Greek drama, tragedy and comedy alike, was the 
chorus with its music, song, and dance, and it was the chorus that gave 
the drama much of its aesthetic significance. Had modern drama, 
necessarily deprived of the chorus (for it was a spontaneous and organic 
religious expression), remained dependent merely upon action it would 
have been but a poor and unworthy thing, for in itself action is the 
least affecting element in a play. But from the earliest times dialogue 
was written in verse, and by the Elizabethans verse was lifted to the 
plane of poetry, while music, song, and even dance were used to 
achieve the dramatic ajffect. The greatest contribution of modern 
times to the drama, however, is character, and it is character expressed 
in poetry that makes Shakespeare's plays as great as, perhaps even 
greater than, those of ^Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. 

It is easy enough, within limits, to understand why we take such 
delight in the imitation of an action. We are by nature imitative, and 
the recognition of the relation between the action on the stage and 
that of real life fills us with the same sort of pleasure that we experience 
from the recognition of any other object in the image, whether in a 
good joke, a model, a painting, or more subtly, in metaphor. But it is 
more than this, and here Roger Fry in his Essay in ^Esthetics is 
illuminating. He points out that man leads, or is capable of leading, a 
double life: one the actual, and the other the imaginative j in the one 
he feels more strongly but more confusedly, in the other he both sees 
more clearly and feels more purely. For instance, if we are involved 
in an adventure with a wild bull the overpowering emotion is one of 
fear inspired by our instinct of self-preservation, and we see little of 
the incident because we are too preoccupied with the reaction of 
flight which is the important part of the whole process. 


The whole of animal life, and a great part of human life, is made up 
of these instinctive reactions to sensible objects, and their accompanying 
emotions. But man has the peculiar faculty of calling up again in his 
mind the echo of past experiences of this kind, of going over it again, 
'in imagination' as we say ... In the imaginative life no such action 
is necessary, and, therefore, the whole consciousness may be focused 
upon the perceptive and the emotional aspects of the experience. In 
this way we get, in the imaginative life, a different set of values, and a 
different kind of perception. 

Similarly, if we see even an everyday event projected on the screen 
of a cinema, 'this resembles actual life in almost every respect, except 
that what the psychologists call the conative part of our reaction to 
sensations is cut off'. We see more clearly because we are spectators 
and not actors in the event; we are abstracted from real life and see 
it with comparative dispassion and clarity, for our vision is not con- 
fused by the necessity of action. If the scene presented be one that 
inspires pity and terror, though these emotions will be weaker than 
those in real life, they will be felt more purely because, once again, 
they will not be confused and even overpowered by other (and 
dramatically irrelevant) emotions inspired by panic and the impact of 
events on our real life. 

Roger Fry was writing of the graphic arts, but his remarks apply 
with equal validity to the drama; and if this clarity of perception and 
feeling characteristic of the imaginative life applies to the representa- 
tion of action it would seem to apply also to the representation of 
character, and account, at least in part, for the delight we take in 
recognising on the stage the object in the image, a real man in the 
figure of a poor player, a walking shadow. We apprehend him with 
greater clarity than the real people who surround us, for what he is 
and what he does cannot affect our actual life, and we feel for him 
with simpler and purer emotions, for they are less confused and 
troubled by personal considerations. Not only this, but we can if we 
wish identify ourselves with the characters on the stage and experience 
vicariously feelings of pity and terror, joy and exaltation, with the 
pleasurable knowledge that we can withdraw from the imaginative 
into the actual world if we so desire. For character is the hook by 
which we may attach ourselves to the action. We can at will enjoy 
the pleasures of the imaginative and the actual life, be abstracted from 
and identify ourselves with character and action, be both spectators of 
and participators in the event. In Greek tragedy the audience were 
primarily spectators; in Shakespearean tragedy, owing to the develop- 
ment of character, they are spectators and actors alike. 


It is a fair generalisation to make that before the time of Shake- 
speare there were no characters in English literature, or for that 
matter in modern European literature: there were only situations and 
puppets. Occasionally, it is true, a character in the mystery or morality 
plays comes to life, like the sheep-stealer Mak in the Second Shepherds' 
Play, or Everyman when he is deserted by Beauty. And there is the 
astonishing genius Chaucer who, had he lived two centuries later, 
might have rivalled Shakespeare as a dramatist, but as it is, his real 
characters the characters of the Prologue and others drawn from con- 
temporary life are for the most part only brilliant sketches: we do 
not see enough of them, nor do we see them in action and thrown into 
relief by the background of events fully to realise them in the round. 
Palamon and Arcite are little more than the stock figures of medieval 
romance, the Knight and Squire are flat, heraldic patterns, but the 
Wife of Bath is magnificently alive and of the same strain as Mistress 
Quickly, and she and Harry Bailey the inn-keeper are perhaps the 
most real characters in English literature before the time of Shake- 
speare. Marlowe's figures are big rather than real: they grow to 
monstrous proportions and, except for Edward II, we cannot believe 
in them. 

I Shakespeare starts where Marlowe and the rest of the University 
AVits left off, that is with rhetoric and action, with non-dramatic 
poetry and situatibn, his progress being by way of prose and comic 
character to the dramatic poetry and tragic character of his maturity. , 
'Neither character nor dialogue were yet understood', writes Johnson. 
'Shakespeare may be truly said to have introduced them both amongst 
us, and in some of his happier scenes to have carried them both to the 
utmost height.' Yet the earliest plays are peopled by puppets, and 
speech is declamation rather than dramatic dialogue. The opening 
speeches of Henry VI Part i are fine, but with the rhetoric of 

Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night! 
Comets, importing change of times and states, 
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky, 
And with them scourge the bad revolting stars 
That have consented unto Henry's death! 

Richard III is a remarkable advance, yet Richard's character is re- 
vealed in the crudest way open to the dramatist: in the soliloquy with 
which the play opens he tells the audience what manner of man 
he is: 


And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, 
To entertain these fair well-spoken days, 
I am determined to prove a villain, 
And hate the idle pleasures of these days. 
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, . . . 

and then acts consistently according to this self-revelation, though 
with an enlivening smack of the bastard Edmund's sardonic humour. 
'Richard IIP, says Mr. Bernard Shaw, 'is delightful as the whimsical 
comedian who stops a funeral to make love to the corpse's son's widow; 
but when, in the next act, he is replaced by a stage villain who smothers 
babies and offs with people's heads, we are revolted at the imposture 
and repudiate the changeling.' And Aaron in Titus Andronicus is a 
similar stage villain: 

O, how this villainy 

Doth fat me with the very thoughts of it! 
Let fools do good, and fair men call for grace, 
Aaron will have his soul black like his face. 

The truth is that, with a few exceptions, the main characters in 
the plays scarcely come to life before the time of The Merchant of 
Venice. Rhetorical and euphuistic verse is not a good medium for the 
expression and development of character, and it is no wonder that the 
characters we remember in the early plays are the subordinate ones, 
not those borrowed along with the plot, but Shakespeare's own 
creations, comic or serio-comic characters thrown in to fill a gap but 
unworthy to speak verse, or only on special occasions: we remember 
Speed and L&unce but we forget their masters Valentine and Proteus. 
And similarly in Love's Labour's Lost^ instead of Biron and Rosaline 
with their rattling word-play it is Holofernes, and Armado, and 
Costard that we remember, even Sir Nathaniel: 'a foolish mild man; 
an honest man, look you, and soon dashed. He is a marvellous good 
neighbour, faith, and a very good bowler: but, for Alisander, alas, 
you see how 't is, a little o'erparted.' 

But Shakespearean character, fully rigged, first sails on to the stage 
with the shameless and outrageous Nurse in Romeo and jfu/iet: 

Now, by my maidenhead, at twelve year old, 
I bade her come. What, lamb! what, lady-bird! 
God forbid! where's this girl? what, Juliet! 

And in the same play Mercutio, to begin with scarcely distinguishable 
from any other of Shakespeare's high-spirited young men, save per- 


haps by his immoderate bawdiness, only begins to live when he begins 
to die, significantly enough, in prose: 

No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis 
enough, 't will serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a 
grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o' 
both your houses. 

Christopher Sly is more real than Petruchio and Kate, Faulconbridge 
than John, Constance, and Arthur, Bottom than Theseus and 
Hippolyta, Demetrius and the rest of the lovers. 

It is as though Shakespeare was, to begin with, almost frightened of 
his exalted personages and felt so much respect for them that he left 
them on their pedestals scarcely brought to life. Perhaps this explains 
why that remarkable and in many ways so unpleasant work The 
Merchant of Venice is his first successful play written mostly in verse; 
successful in that the main characters, quite simple people, are really 
alive. Or perhaps it was merely that Shylock, conceived originally as 
a subordinate character and a figure of fun, but necessary for the 
development of the plot, seized on his imagination and became a real 
and tragic figure. Shakespeare could not kill him to prevent his over- 
whelming Antonio, as he had already killed Mercutio for the sake of 
Romeo and was soon to kill Falstaff for the sake of Henry V, and he 
had no alternative but to abandon the play or allow him to become the 
main character. 

The Merchant of Venice^ with its beautiful though heartless last act, 
belongs poetically to the early group of Shakespeare's plays; from the 
point of view of characterisation it belongs to the middle period; it 
stands between the two groups and makes the transition from the one 
to the other. The middle period of the comedies and historical 
comedies, from Henry IV to Twelfth Night , is that of prose: when 
Shakespeare uses prose as much as, or even more than, he uses verse. 
Verse on the whole had been lyrical or rhetorical, non-dramatic and 
inexpressive of character; while prose had proved the medium that 
had given life to the characters. Now he was to apply it to his main 
and serious characters much as he had applied it to the subordinate and 
comic ones, and the result is astonishing; not only do we have Falstaff, 
Bardolph, Pistol, Mistress Quickly, Shallow, Dogberry, Touchstone, 
Feste, Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, but we have Prince 
Henry, Hotspur, Glendower, Fluellen, Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, 
Benedick, Beatrice, Rosalind, Celia, Jaques, 1 Malvolio, Maria, 

1 'Nay, God be with you, an you speak in blank verse', Bays Jaques. And mincing poetry 
sett Hotspur's teeth on edge. 


Olivia, Viola, and a host of others. No longer are the main characters 
overshadowed by the subordinate, but all are combined and fused into 
a dramatic unity that had not been achieved before. 

Shakespeare, of course, did not abandon verse; he used it almost as 
much as prose, but it is verse with a difference, verse that has learned 
much from its contact with prose. It is less elaborate, almost simple: 
not only is there a remarkable decline in the percentage of rhyme 
(from an average of 15% in the plays before Henry IV to 6% in 
those between Henry /^and Twelfth Night^ and only 4*5% if Twelfth 
Night be excluded), but there is little of the quibbling which Johnson 
found so distressing; Shakespeare never wrote like this again: 

I am too sore enpierced with his shaft 

To soar with his light feathers; and so bound, 

I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe. 

There is less rhetoric: the characters really listen to one another 
instead of declaiming to the empty air except Henry V, in whom a 
love of rhetoric and of his own voice is an essential quality. And 
there are fewer lyrical set-pieces and digressions* Benedick does not 
lose himself in words like Mercutio: 

True, I talk of dreams, 
Which are the children of an idle brain, 
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy; 
Which is as thin of substance as the air; 
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes 
Even now the frozen bosom of the north, 
And, being anger'd, puffs away from thence, 
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south. 

Thus Mercutio, and it might just as well be Romeo or Benvolio or 
any other character in the play; but it is impossible to quote a com- 
parable passage of Benedick, for he only speaks twenty-five lines of 

For technical reasons too the verse becomes less stiff and brittle, 
more flexible and fluid. A secondary rhythm is mounted on the 
primary one of the metre; one line flows into another; short lines 
occur in mid-speech, giving emphasis, variety, and a broken cadence 
to the verse; and there is a notable increase in the number of speeches 
that end in the middle, instead of at the end, of a line. Compare a 
page of verse in Romeo and Juliet with one in Twelfth Night (and to 
anticipate, with one in The Winter** Tale) and you can see the 
difference without reading. In brief, this chastened, deceptively 


simple-looking, almost colloquial verse has become dramatic, expres- 
sive of action and creative of character. Listen to Hotspur and 

Hot. Lord Mortimer, and Cousin Glendower, 

Will you sit down? 

And, uncle Worcester: a plague upon it! 

I have forgot the map. 

Glen. No, here it is. ... 

Hot. I'll have it so; a little charge will do it. 
Glen. I will not have it alter'd. 
Hot. Will not you? 

Glen. No, nor you shall not 

Hot. Who shall say me nay? 

Glen. Why, that will I. 
Hot. Let me not understand you then: 

Speak it in Welsh. 
Glen. I can speak English, lord, as well as you. . . . 

The next group of plays, Hamlet ', Troilus and Cressida, 1 AWs Well, 
and Measure for Measure, makes the transition from the middle period 
to the mature style of the tragedies. Technically they resemble the 
earlier group (though there is a significant increase in the number of 
speeches that end in the middle of a line) and prose is still an important 
part of the expression: in the two comedies there is as much prose as 
verse, in the two tragedies there is approximately half as much. This 
use of prose links them to the preceding histories and comedies, but 
in tone they are very different and even the two comedies have more 
in common with the great series of tragedies that was to succeed them. 
There is a bitterness, at times a cynicism, which is far removed from the 
light-heartedness of As You Like It and Twelfth Night, and a prelude 
to the tragic agony of Othello, Lear, and Macbeth. For Hamlet the 

is an unweeded garden 

That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature 
Possess it merely. 

And when Troilus sees Cressida so willingly seduced by Diomedes 
the anguished words are wrung from him, 

O wither'd truth! . . . 

O beauty! where is thy faith? 

1 The trick of style in Hamlet, and to a lew degree in Troilus and Cretsida, hai already been 
indicated. (See p. 128.) 


while Thersites Comments as Chorus: 

How the devil Luxury, with his fat rump and potato-finger, tickles 
these together! Fry, lechery, fry! 

In dll's Well Helena has to resort to an ignominious trick to secure 
a husband who has already seduced another woman; and Isabella in 
Measure for Measure is torn on the rack of her virtue. 

In the tragedies and romances the wheel has come full circle: verse 
which was the main medium of the early plays almost the only 
medium of the early histories 1 has come again into its own. When 
prose is used in the tragedies it is to secure a definite dramatic purpose 
Lear's madness, Lady Macbeth 's sleep-walking, or the Porter's 
soliloquy that links the horror of the night to the discovery of day 
and never simply to advance the action or to develop character, 
though of course it does both incidentally. Less than a tenth of 
Macbeth and jfntony and Cleopatra is written in prose. The verse that 
entered the middle period as lyrical poetry and rhetoric was subdued 
and simplified by its contact with prose, and emerged transfigured and 
charged with an energy that made it the most powerful instrument of 
dramatic construction ever wielded by the hand of man. No longer 
does it hang loosely in the plays, decorating but at the same time 
obscuring both action and character in its folds; verse is the action, 
verse is the character, and every image, every phrase, almost every 
word is a revelation of some quality of mind or spirit. 

Like to the Pontic sea, 
Whose icy current and compulsive course 
Ne'er feels retiring ebb, but keeps due on 
To the Propontic and the Hellespont: 
Even so my bloody thoughts, with violent pace, 
Shall ne'er look back, ne'er ebb to humble love, 
Till that a capable and wide revenge 
Swallow them up. 

Compare the significance of Othello's simile (echoed later in 4 a sword 
of Spain, the ice-brook's temper') with Mercutio's charming but 
dramatically insignificant comparison of dreams to the air and wind, 
already quoted. Or better, compare the effect in Romeo's beautiful 
though protracted final speech of: 

1 There are only 500 lines of prose in the six early histories, and these are all in two of the 
plays, Henry VI Pt. 2 and Richard III. 



Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! 
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on 
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark! 

with Othello's 

Here is my journey's end, here is my butt 
And very sea-mark of my utmost sail. 

The one is part of a dramatic lyric, almost superficial, the other is a 
revelation of the centre itself. 

This development of Shakespeare's verse by way of prose from 
comparatively non-dramatic to dramatic poetry has been insisted on 
because it runs parallel to his development of characterisation, of 
which indeed it is the cause, or at least in part the cause. Without the 
dramatic verse of his maturity there might have been a Lear, Othello, 
Macbeth, and Antony, but they would have been very different 
creations from the ones that we know; imagine Antony and Cleopatra 
speaking the language of Romeo and Juliet, or a prose-speaking 
Othello and Macbeth. 

Of these tragedies Professor Bradley writes: 

What we do feel strongly, as a tragedy advances to its close, is that 
the calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably from the deeds of men, 
and that the main source of these deeds is character. The dictum that, 
with Shakespeare, 'character is destiny' is no doubt an exaggeration, 
and one that may mislead (for many of his tragic personages, if they had 
not met with peculiar circumstances, would have escaped a tragic end, 
and might even have lived fairly untroubled lives); but it is the exag- 
geration of a vital truth. 

'Not so', replies Sir Walter Raleigh: 

Shakespeare's tragedies deal with greater things than man; with 
powers and passions, elemental forces, and dark abysses of suffering; 
with the central fire, which breaks through the thin crust of civilisation, 
and makes a splendour in the sky above the blackness of ruined homes. 
... It is not true to say that in these tragedies character is destiny . . . 
Hamlet is sensitive, thoughtful, generous, impulsive, 'a pure, noble, 
and most moral nature' yet he does not escape the extreme penalty, 
and at the bar of a false criticism he too is made guilty of the catastrophe. 
But Shakespeare, who watched his heroes, awestruck, as he saw them 
being drawn into the gulf, passed no such judgment on them. In his 
view of it, what they suffer is out of all proportion to what they do and 
are. They are presented with a choice, and the essence of the tragedy 
is that choice is impossible. 


These two views are not, perhaps, as irreconcilable as they appear 
at first sight. In Macbeth there are elemental and supernatural forces 
which bring all their powers of evil to bear on the tragic hero and 
drive him to murder and his own destruction. In Lear the elements 
themselves are not actively hostile, they are horrible because they are 
insentient and break the old king dispassionately. They are con- 
trasted with the elemental evil which is active in the deliberate cruelty 
of Goneril, Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund, though these are not 
agents who drive Lear to commit his tragic blunder, but instruments 
of torture when he has delivered himself into their hands. Like 
Macbeth, 1 Othello is assailed from without, but as in Lear the enemy 
is in human form, if the epithet may be applied to the inhuman lago. 
It is different with Hamlet, at once simpler and more difficult. His 
outward opponent is the clever, unscrupulous, and very vulnerable 
Claudius; the essential conflict is an inner one. 

' Hamlet is assailed from within, Macbeth and Othello are assailed 
and tempted from without before the inner agony begins, while Lear 
struggles helplessly both against the remorse that beats inside his 
brain, and against the exterior powers of the storm and his devilish 
daughters. These tragic heroes are all very human men and all suffer 
intolerably more than they deserve, indeed it can scarcely be main- 
tained that any of them save Macbeth deserves to suffer at all, yet 
they all suffer on account of some frailty in themselves: Macbeth for 
his latent ambition; Othello for his latent jealousy and possibly for 
his repressed resentment against a society that makes use of him in 

1 There is another parallel between Macbeth and Othello which I do not remember 
having seen remarked on. When Macbeth is driven to his last desperate defence he says 

My way of life 

Is fall'n into the sere, the yellow leaf; 
And that which should accompany old age, 
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, 
I must not look to have. 

He is lonely, friendless; he has murdered his be?t friend Banquo, is estranged from his dis- 
tracted wife, and the thanes fly from him. This loneliness and longing for friendship adds 
to the tragedy and is dramatically important because it sustains our sympathy for the villainous 
hero. Othello's loneliness makes his tragedy almost unbearable. He is isolated by his colour, 
but he is indispensable: 'I have done the state some service, and they know't,' he says without 
the slightest trace of irony. Cassio is too weak a character to mean much to Othello, but he 
is the nearest to a friend, and yet it is Cassio and his love Desdemona whom lago turns into 
the objects of his hate. There is in this play a sinister silence in which Othello with his noble 
simplicity walks alone and confident, a silence broken only by the snake-like rustling of lago 
at his feet. Coriolanus is too proud and self-sufficient to be dependent upon friendship, yet 
even he has Menenius; Hamlet has Horatio, Lear has Kent, and Brutus before he dies can 
proudly say: 

My heart doth joy that yet in all my life 

I found no man but he was true to me. 


public but neglects him in private; Lear for his pride and rashness; 
Camlet for the cynicism engendered by his mother's treachery. The 
frailty is not necessarily a vice, it may be a virtue, but it is a flaw in 
the defensive armour and thus an element of character; and in this 
limited sense character is destiny. Hamlet himself says as much in a 
speech which goes some way to describe Shakespeare's conception of 
a tragic hero: 

So, oft it chances in particular men, 

That for some vicious mole of nature in them, 

As, in their birth, wherein they are not guilty, 

Since nature cannot choose his origin, 

By the o'ergrowth of some complexion, 

Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason, 

Or by some habit that too much o'er-leavens 

The form of plausive manners, that these men, 

Carrying, I say, the stamp of one defect, 

Being nature's livery, or fortune's star, v 

Their virtues else be they as pure as grace, * 

As infinite as man may undergo 

Shall in the general censure take corruption 

From that particular fault. __ 

But character- is not destiny in the sense that, whatever the circum- 
stances, men of such essential nobility would have brought the same 
agony upon themselves and suffered the same or a similar fate. The 
tragic frailty is in itself insufficient to account for the tragedy; the 
weakness is there, but if neither time nor place adhere, if the one fatal 
antagonist fails to attack at the one critical moment, there is no reason 
why the flaw should lead to a tragic issue. 'They met me in the day 
of success', are the first words that Macbeth wrote to his wife. It is 
circumstances beyond a man's control brought into a critical relation- 
ship with his weakness, be it a vice or a virtue, that precipitates the 
tragedy. And circumstance, in Shakespearean tragedy, must be ac- 
cepted as a tragic fact complementary to the tragic frailty of charac- 
ter. The brave and noble but ambitious and superstitious Macbeth 
met the witches in the day of success, and Duncan decided to pass that 
fatal night in Lady Macbeth 's castle; the lonely Othello adored 
Desdemona and trusted lago; Hamlet's father died mysteriously and 
the man whom Hamlet despised usurped his father's place both with 
his mother and on the throne. But Lear would have shooed the 
witches off their heath; Macbeth would have been happy in Lear's 
position, no doubt an excellent king, and we may be sure there would 
have been no division of his kingdom and no nonsense from his daugh- 


ters; Hamlet would simply have laughed at lago, and Othello would 
have killed Claudius before the end of Act I. 

This convergence of circumstance and character reminds one of 
Hardy's poem on the loss of the 'Titanic', The Convergence of the 
Twain, significantly enough one of the Satires of Circumstance, and 
symbolic of Hardy's own view of tragedy: 

And as the smart ship grew 
In stature, grace, and hue, 
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too. 

Alien they seemed to be: 
No mortal eye could see 
The intimate welding of their later history, 

Or sign that they were bent 
By paths coincident 
On being anon twin halves of one august event. 

Till the Spinner of the Years 
Said 'Now!' And each one hears, 

And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres. 

Character is destiny, but so is circumstance, and their fitness and 
conjunction may lead to suffering in no way related to a man's deserts, 
so that we exclaim in pity and terror, 'There but for the grace of God 
go I'; and there for all that we can tell we may yet go. Shakespeare 
draws no moral; though in a sense the characters bring this destruc- 
tion upon themselves, he does not insinuate that Lear and Othello, 
Cordelia and Desdemona suffer only what they deserve. His only 
comment seems to be put into the mouth of King Lear: 'Upon such, 
sacrifices the gods themselves throw incense.' 

Cordelia, Desdemona, Ophelia: they were victims o circumstance, 
not of character; there was nothing that they could do but 'love, and 
be silent', and die. Yet not all Shakespeare's tragic heroines are as 
quiet as Cordelia; Juliet is by no means silent, and Cleopatra, like 
Falstaff, has much to say in the behalf of herself. It is relatively easy 
for a boy to play the part of a woman in comedy, particularly when, 
like Portia, Rosalind, Viola, and Imogen he takes the part of a girl 
pretending to be a boy; nor is the unsexed Lady Macbeth much more 
difficult; but it is another matter when it comes to Juliet, Desdemona, 
and above all Cleopatra. Shakespeare's problem, of course, was to 
prevent the love passages becoming ludicrous, for the sight of a man 
making passionate love to a woman whom the audience well knew to 


be a boy, or of a boy playing the part of a voluptuous and seductive 
Cleopatra, might well raise an infectious titter in the theatre. 

Shakespeare's solution is simple enough: there is, as Mr. Granville- 
Barker has observed, no passionate love-making in his plays. In the 
comedies it is a light-hearted affair of wit: Rosaline-Biron, Beatrice- 
Benedick, Rosalind-Orlando, the lovers like fencers with a wary eye 
on their opponent and ever on guard ready for the attack or parry 
and riposte. It is love at a distance. Othello has married Desdemona 
before the play begins, describing his courtship in surely the most 
beautiful passage of retrospective narrative in our literature, and we do 
not see them alone together until the final scene in which he murders 
her. Nor are Antony and Cleopatra ever seen alone, the voluptuous 
atmosphere being created mainly by the richness of the poetry, par- 
ticularly of course by Enobarbus's picture of Cleopatra in her burning 
barge making the winds love-sick, and the waters amorous. 'Age 
cannot wither her', says Enobarbus: 

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale 
Her infinite variety. Other women cloy 
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry 
Where most she satisfies; for vilest things 
Become themselves in her, that the holy priests 
Bless Her when she is riggish. 

But unlike the holy priests we do not see her riggish. 

Romeo first woos Juliet in a crowded ball-room, and next when he 
is separated from her by the height of her balcony. It is true that we 
once see them alone together for a few moments, but then the poetry 
is so ethereal: 

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day: 
It was the nightingale, and not the krk 
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear; 
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate- tree: 
Believe me love, it was the nightingale; 

and the feeling of tragedy is so imminent that there is no physical 
passion in the scene. 'One kiss, and I'll descend', Romeo whispers, 
and Juliet replies: 

O God! I have an ill-divining soul: 
Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low 
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb: 
Either my eye-sight fails, or thou look'st pale. 


Romeo descends from Juliet to his death; Antony is drawn up to die 
in the arms of Cleopatra: 

And welcome, welcome! die where thou hast liv'd: 
Quicken with kissing: had my lips that power, 
Thus would I wear them out. 

This is perhaps the most difficult scene in Shakespeare for a boy to 
play, but again physical passion is overwhelmed by the presence of ! 
death. 1 Consider finally the art with which Shakespeare turns to 
account the limitations of the convention, in what Sir Arthur Quiller- 
Couch calls 'the most beautiful love-scene in Shakespeare 1 that 
between Ferdinand and Miranda in The Tempest. 

It should be remembered that Elizabethan plays were written to be , 
seen and heard upon the stage: seen in the round and heard in the 
round upon an apron stage, and not to be published in book form and 
studied critically in the library. They were an ephemeral form of 
entertainment, as ephemeral as the film is to-day and scarcely to be 
thought of as serious literature, so that it was largely a matter of luck, 
and no doubt extra popularity, when a play was preserved. Of the 
two hundred and twenty plays in which Thomas Heywood had 'either 
an entire hand or at the least a main finger' only twenty-five have 
come down to us. The result was that the Elizabethan dramatist 
thought of his play as a series of theatrically effective scenes and might 
be careless in its construction and even deliberately falsify it, knowing 
that inconsistencies would pass unnoticed in the uncritical excitement 
of a stage production. There are plenty of examples of such careless- < 
ness and inconsistencies in Shakespeare. Of one of his earliest plays, 
The Two Gentlemen of Verona^ Dr. Johnson complains: 

The author conveys his heroes by sea from one inland town to another 
in the same country; he places the emperor at Milan, and sends his 
young men to attend him, but never mentions him more; he makes 
Protheus, after an interview with Silvia, say he has only seen her pic- 
ture; and, if we may credit the old copies, he has, by mistaking places, 
left his scenery inextricable. 

And of one of the latest, Cymbeline\ 

To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of the conduct, the 
confusion of the names and manners of different times, and the im- 

1 'Shakespeare', writes Mr. Granville-Barker, 'asks nothing of his Cleopatra that a boy 
cannot accomplish. ... To tell a woman to begin her study of how to play a woman's part 
by imagining herself a boy may seem absurd; but this is the right approach nevertheless. 1 
II Our film-producers might perhaps study Shakespeare's love-scenes with advantage. 


possibility of the events in any system of life, were to waste criticism 
upon unresisting imbecility, upon faults too evident for detection, and 
too gross for aggravation. 

And it must be admitted that the ramshackle structure of the plot is 
in the last act on the verge of collapse. 

Minor examples of errors of fact, such as ./Egeon's confused account 
of his twin sons in The Comedy of Errors^ or the double announcement 
of Portia's death in Julius Casar^ could be multiplied almost indefi- 
nitely. But there are not only errors of fact and confusions of action, 
there are inconsistencies of character as well, for Shakespeare did not 
hesitate to falsify character in order to secure an effect. The lecherous 
old man in The Merry Wives of Winds or ^ the butt of housewives' wit 
and children's jests, resembles only physically the resourceful Falstaff 
of Henry IV: Falstaff, not only witty in himself, but the cause that 
wit is in other men. No wonder he complains to his creator, ' "Seese" 
and "putter"? Have I lived to stand at the taunt of one who makes 
fritters of English?' Nor is it easy to reconcile the strange scene of 
Falstaff's capture of the 'famous rebel', Colville, in Part 2, with his 
exploits on Gadshill and at the Battle of Shrewsbury in Part I. 
Oliver's conversion from tyrant brother and the most unnatural that 
lived among men is scarcely convincing, but then Celia had to be 
supplied with a^husband. The worldliness of Polonius's advice to 
Laertes is admittedly in keeping with his character, but its concen- 
trated good sense is at odds with all his other rambling remarks; it is, 
however, one of the best-known speeches in Hamlet and is theatrically 
effective. The climax of Henry IV Part I is of course the meeting 
of Prince Henry and Hotspur at Shrewsbury and their single combat, 
for which the audience has been carefully prepared and artfully kept 
waiting. We can imagine the extravagant violence of an Elizabethan 
production and the excitement of the groundlings as they crowded 
about the stage, but can we imagine any of those cold and sober- 
blooded Lancastrians making the beautiful and generous valedictory 
speech over the body of Hotspur? Such a speech is obviously called 
for and Prince Henry has to make it, but it sounds strange, to say the 
least of it, coming from those thin lips. And stranger still are the 
words of Aufidius over the body of Coriolanus; no sooner has Aufidius 
murdered him to the cry of 'unholy braggart', 'insolent villain', than 
he says: 

My rage is gone, 

And I am struck with sorrow. Take him up: 
Help, three o' the chiefest soldiers; Til be one. 


Beat thou the drum; that it speak mournfully; 
Trail your steel pikes. Though in this city he 
Hath widow'd and unchilded many a one, 
Which to this hour bewail the injury, 
Yet he shall have a noble memory. 

Savonarola Brown had profited from his reading of Coriolanus almost 
as much as from that of Hamlet. 

These inconsistencies are sometimes forced on Shakespeare by the 
exigencies of the plots which, as Johnson remarked, 'are often so 
loosely formed, that a very slight consideration may improve them, 
and so carelessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to compre- 
hend his own design'. Shakespeare rarely troubled to invent a plot, 
though he would generally modify it and add new situations and 
characters as in Much Ado^ where the almost tragic story of Hero is 
taken from Bandello, the comedy of Beatrice may owe something to 
Castiglione, but the farce of Dogberry is Shakespeare's own invention. 
He did not therefore invent a plot to suit preconceived characters, but 
had to create characters to suit a given plot. This is important, as it 
accounts not only for some of the inconsistencies but also for many of 
the improbabilities. 'His opening scenes', writes Sir Walter Raleigh, 
'are often a kind of postulate, which the spectator or reader is asked 
to grant. At this point of the play improbability is of no account; the 
intelligent reader will accept the situation as a gift, and will become 
alert and critical only when the next step is taken, and he is asked to 
concede the truth of the argument given these persons in this situa- 
tion, such and such events will follow.' Thus, if an old king divides 
his kingdom among his daughters in return for their protestations of 
love; if an ambitious general meets three witches in the day of success; 
if a black man marries a beautiful Venetian girl; if a prince sees the 
ghost of his father who tells him that he has been murdered; if a Duke 
of Milan is put to sea in a rotten carcass of a butt with his baby 
daughter and his books of magic then all the rest will follow. It is 
the method of the fairy-tale and of Corporal Trim's story of the King 
of Bohemia, unhappily lost betwixt him and Uncle Toby: 

There was a certain king of Bohemia, but in whose reign, except his 
own, I am not able to inform your honour 

I do not desire it of thee, Trim, by any means, cried my uncle Toby. 

It was a little before the time, an' please your honour, when 
giants were beginning to leave off breeding: but in what year of our 
Lord that was 

.The greater improbability, which mu$t be accepted as something 


side the plot and beyond the author's control, is put first so that there 
is no difficulty in accepting the rest of the story, which in Shakespeare 
follows logically enough once the initial postulate has been granted. 
It is the opposite of Defoe's and Swift's method, which is to prepare 
the reader to accept the improbable or incredible by being as matter 
of fact as possible to begin with : 

My father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the third 
of five sons. He sent me to Emmanuel College in Cambridge at fourteen 
years old, where I resided three years, and applied myself close to my 

This adaptation of old stories and other men's plots accounts also 
for what Johnson calls Shakespeare's 'first defect': 

He sacrifices virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful to 
please than to instruct, that he seems to write without any moral pur- 
pose. From his writings, indeed, a system of social duty may be selected, 
for he that thinks reasonably must think morally; but his precepts and 
axioms drop casually from him; he makes no just distribution of good or 
evil, nor is always careful to show in the virtuous a disapprobation of 
the wicked; he carries his persons indifferently through right and wrong, 
and, at the close, dismisses them without further care, and leaves their 
examples to operate by chance. This fault the barbarity of his age 
cannot extenuate; for it is always a writer's duty to make the world 
better, and justice is a virtue independent on time or place. 

Johnson, in short, takes up the extreme classical position (based maybe 
on the queasy feeling that biologically speaking art is a blasphemy and 
only to be justified on moral grounds), that art should be an inspiration 
to virtuous action, and accuses Shakespeare of the Romantic hedonistic 
view that the object of art is primarily to give pleasure. Johnson's 
over-literal and pedantic interpretation leaves little room for com- 
promise; but it is not necessary to point a moral (as Hazlitt says, The 
Taming of the Shrew is almost the only one of Shakespeare's comedies 
that has a downright moral), to reward virtue and punish vice, in order 
to inspire a virtuous way of life; if the artist is not vicious in object 
or manner, as Fletcher so often is and the Restoration dramatists 
nearly always are, if the pleasure he gives is spiritual rather than 
sensual, if there is anything in Keats's axiom that truth is beauty, 
beauty truth, then the Romantic writer may inspire virtuous action 
incidentally every bit as much as does the classical writer with his 
deliberate didacticism. Johnson tells us that he was so shocked by 
Cordelia's death that he could not bear to read the last scenes of the 


play, 'for Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish in 
a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice'. But, though 
Cordelia's death is less inevitable, an accident almost, he might have 
raised similar objections to the fate of Ophelia and Desdemona. There 
was a paradoxical streak of sentiment, almost of moral cowardice, in 
this very courageous apostle of good sense. 

But it is true that in his lighter plays Shakespeare sometimes sacri- 
fices virtue to convenience, that in a limited sense 'he carries his 
persons indifferently through right and wrong, and, at the close, dis- 
misses them without further care'. Falstaff scarcely a virtuous 
character perhaps dies of a broken heart; in Nym's language, 'the 
king hath run bad humours on the knight': in Pistol's, 'his heart is 
fracted and corroborate'. And incidentally the simple loyalty of 
Fluellen and Williams is exploited by this king of good fellows with 
his exceedingly queer sense of humour. Such a wanton infliction of 
indignity is unpardonable, and though of very minor importance, lends 
some show of truth to Johnson's accusation. Not without justification 
does Malvolio protest, 'Madam, you have done me wrong, notorious 
wrong'; and Shylock, deprived by the insrufferable Portia and her un- 
speakable friends of all that makes his life worth living, his money, his 
daughter, and his religion, creeps away to die: 'I pray you, give me 
leave to go from hence, I am not well.' 

It is, however, his wom^n_who suffer the most casual treatment and 
sometimes intolerable indignities. Julia undergoes the humiliation of 
following and being accepted by the would-be ravisher Proteus; 
Katharine is tamed by Petruchio into saying: 

Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot, 
And place your hands below your husband's foot: 
In token of which duty, if he please, 
My hand is ready, may it do him ease. 

Portia and Jessica are married for their money by a couple of adven- 
turous Jew-baiters; Hero accepts the man who when she came to! 
marry him in church rejected her as an 'approved wanton', 'a rotten 
orange'; Celia is paired off with the man who had tried to murder 
his brother; Viola marries a sentimental duke who does not know his 
own mind; to win Bertram Helena takes the place in bed of another 
girl, Diana, with whom he thinks he is lying; Mariana gains Angelo 
by the same device, Isabella being persuaded to play the same part as 
Diana in AWs Well by the Duke Vincentio, whom she marries after 
he has cruelly deceived her and sent her to prison; Marina accepts the 
man who threatened to assault her in a brothel; and Imogen is restored 

I&8 SHAkESPfeAkfc ANb HIS 

to a husband who ordered his servant to kill her. It seems impossible 
to absolve Shakespeare entirely from the accusation that he sometimes 
sacrifices virtue to convenience unless we maintain, as no doubt we 
should, that the women he created are often too good for the roles 
they have to fill in his borrowed plots, which is only another way of 
charging him with inconsistency of characterisation. 

Shakespeare's young heroines are heroines, virtuous, generally 
practical, often witty, always patient, and above all courageous and 
loyal. There are few half-tones in their painting* consider Julia, 
Silvia, Rosaline, Juliet, the two Helenas, Hermia, Lady Percy, Hero, 
Beatrice, Rosalind, Celia, Viola, Brutus's Portia, Ophelia, Isabella, 
Desdemona, Cordelia, Virgilia, Marina, Imogen, Perdita, Miranda. 
There is Portia, Bassanio's Portia, but as Hazlitt mildly puts it, 'she is 
not a very great favourite with us'; Cleopatra is not a young heroine, 
and Cressida is meant to be weak and vicious. But what of the heroes? 
There are the delightful young men, not always over-virtuous per- 
haps, Biron, Mercutio, Benedick; there are Hotspur and Edgar, and 
the more colourless Romeo, Orlando, Troilus, Florizel, and Fer- 
dinand; but what are we to make of Proteus, Bassanio, Prince Henry, 
Bertram, Vincentio, Claudio, and Posthumus? Did Shakespeare 
really admire Henry V, the bully on a grand scale who won his 
Katharine much as Petruchio won his? But again, these characters 
can be accounted for by the fact that they had to fill a part in the old 
plots they are not, it will be noticed, characters invented by Shake- 
speare and Shakespeare seems to apologise for them when he makes 
Proteus say: 

O heaven, were man 

But constant, he were perfect! That one error 
Fills him with faults; makes him run through all the sins; 

and Orsino: 

For, boy, however we do praise ourselves, 
Our fancies are more giddy and unfirm, 
More longing, wavering, sooner lost and worn, 
Than women's are; 

and in the lovely song in Much Ado : 

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, 

Men were deceivers ever, 
One foot in sea and one on shore, 

To one thing constant never- 


Shakespeare makes ample amends when he is not driven by the 
exigencies of his plots to delineate cads; then we have Mercutio, 
Faulconbridge, Fluellen, Benedick, Jaques, Sir Toby, Enobarbus, or 
Bottom, Falstaff, Shallow, Dogberry, Touchstone, Parolles and 
Autolycus; and we have a sneaking sympathy even for pimps, like 
Pandarus and Pompey, and bawds like Mistress Overdone. This is 
because of the all-embracing sympathy and tolerance of Shakespeare 
himself, his constant wonder at the infinite variety of people, and his 
almost divine compassion for them; *O brave new world, that has 
such people in't,' exclaims Miranda in his last play. He does not 
represent man, as Aristotle said comedy should do, as worse than in 
actual life, nor for that matter does he represent them in tragedy as 1 
better than in actual life, but as they really are. Shakespeare lies in the 
authentic English tradition of pity and tolerance, of Chaucer, Addison, 
Sterne, Fielding, Dickens, Thackeray, Hardy. He is rarely satirical;! 
though he sometimes laughs at the absurdities of his characters hej 
generally laughs with them, and he never jeers at them; he loves them, 
too dearly for that. Hazlitt, as usual, goes to the heart of the matter, 
and gives a sufficient answer to Johnson: 

Shakespear was in one sense the least moral of all writers; for morality 
(commonly so called) is made up of antipathies; and his talent consisted 
in sympathy with human nature, in all its shapes, degrees, depressions, 
and elevations. The object of the pedantic moralist is to find out the 
bad in everything: his was to shew that 'there is some soul of goodness 
in" things evil.' ... In one sense, Shakespear was no moralist at all: 
in another, he was the greatest of all moralists. He was a moralist in the 
same sense in which nature is one. He taught what he had learned from 
her. He shewed the greatest knowledge of humanity with the greatest 
fellow-feeling for it. 

And yet in spite of their apparent reality Shakespeare's characters 
are not real; like Cezanne's pictures they are a representation of life, 
not a reproduction of it. As a painter has to work within the spatial 
limits of his canvas, so Shakespeare has to force a play within the tem- 
poral limits of a two hours' traffic, 'turning the accomplishment of 
many years into an hour-glass'. He himself explains his difficulty in 
the Choruses of Henry V\ 

Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen, 
Our bending author hath pursu'd the story; 
In little room confining mighty men, 
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory: 


and he implores the audience to use their imaginations, to 'brook 
abridgment', and to mind 'true things by what their mockeries be'. 
Here, it is true, he is referring primarily to limitation of space, to the 
cramping effect of this unworthy scaffold, this cockpit, this wooden O 
of the Globe theatre. But he has to overcome a similar difficulty of 
time, to compress within two or three hours the story of Macbeth's 
degeneration, and of Othello's change from a man possessed by love 
to one possessed by hate. To secure this end he has to resort to violent 
abridgment, compression, and distortion. His problem is similar to 
that of the painter, but his solution is the opposite. The painter cannot 
compete with nature, for his pigments from white to black are only 
a fraction of her immense range which starts with the blinding light 
of the sun, so that he has to pitch his painting in a lower key with 
subtler gradations of intensity. Shakespeare also, limited by time, can- 
not compete with nature, but he equals her range and represents her 
by more violent transitions and rapid foreshorten ings, by abstracting 
everything that is not dramatically relevant. It is as absurd, therefore, 
to complain, as did Rymer and Tolstoy, that Shakespeare's tragedies 
are not true to life as to complain that Van Gogh's paintings of the 
sun are no more like the sun than Shakespeare's mistress's eyes. They 
are works of art, not nature, and they give the effect of reality only 
because they are distortions, like the huge and wonderful figures in the 
clerestory windows of Chartres cathedral. 

Consider the case of Othello. The speed of the first act is com- 
paratively leisurely; in Act II the pace quickens and lago begins his 
attack obliquely by sapping Cassio's position; but it is not until Act III, 
Scene 3, that he launches his direct assault on Othello. It begins at 
line 90 when Desdemona and Emilia go out: 

Qth. Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul, 

But I do love thee! and when I love thee not, 

Chaos is come again. 
lago. My noble lord, 

Oth. What dost thou say, lago? 

lago. Did Michael Cassio, when you woo'd my lady, 

Know of your love? 

Oth. He did, from first to last: why dost thou ask? 
lago. But for a satisfaction of my thought; 

No further harm. 

At line 231 Othello's faith falters, exposing the slightest flaw in his 

And yet, how nature erring from itself 


But it is enough for lago, and like a snake he strikes, then glides away 
leaving the venom to do its work: 

If I do prove her haggard, 

Though that her jesses were my dear heart-strings, 
I 'Id whistle her off and let her down the wind 
To prey at fortune. 

When Desdemona returns Othello recovers: 

If she be false, O, then heaven mocks itself! 
I'll not believe 't. 

but lago knows that his victim is helpless, and utters the beautiful and 
horrible incantation: 

Not poppy, nor mandragora, 
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, 
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep 
Which thou owedst yesterday. 

Nor is he mistaken; Othello loses control of himself and exposes all 
his quivering spirit to lago's final blow: 

And may: but how? how satisfied, my lord? 
Would you, the supervisor, grossly gape on? 
Behold her topp'd? 

And at the end of the scene, perhaps the most terrible scene in 
literature, Othello cries in agony: 

Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her! 
Come, go with me apart: I will withdraw, 
To furnish me with some swift means of death 
For the fair devil. 

And all within four hundred lines! It is not, of course, true to life; 
a man like Othello, so many fathom deep in love, could not so simply 
and so speedily be convinced of his wife's infidelity. But it is true as 
a work of art; within the limitations under which Shakespeare had to 
work, when time must be closed up like a fan, it is terribly and in- 
tensely true. It is a representation of life in a purer yet intenser 
element than ours, an element from which all baser matter has been 
exhausted and into which is packed that only which makes Othello's 
agony, and time itself is huddled. Yet, lest the audience should be 


upset by this abstraction of irrelevance and concentration of relevancy 
Shakespeare is careful to introduce when necessary a character who, 
by voicing our possible protests, relieves our feelings and prepares us 
to accept the dramatic and poetic truth. Thus Emilia, by expressing 
our feelings alleviates our resentment and horror at Othello's blind 

I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest, 

Lay down my soul at stake: if you think other, 

Remove your thought; it doth abuse your bosom. 

and again when, though too late, she cries: 

Thou art rash as fire, to say 
That she was false: O, she was heavenly true! . . . 

Ogull! Odolt! 
As ignorant as dirt! thou hast done a deed 

all our indignation is spent and pity alone is left. Then, when lachimo, 
in a scene remarkably like that between lago and Othello, convinces 
Posthumus that Imogen is faithless, Philario in the character of 
Chorus speaks for the audience: 

Sir, be patient: 

This is not strong enough to be believed 
Of one persuaded well of 

'So does that satisfactory lady Paulina in The Winter's Tale: 

Good queen, my lord, 
Good queen: I say good queen; 
v And would by combat make her good, so were I 
A man, the worst about you. 

And Kent speaks to Lear even more bluntly than does Paulina to 

What wouldst thou do, old man? 
Think'st thou that duty shall have dread to speak, 
When power to flattery bows? To plainness honour's bound, 
When majesty stoops to folly. Reverse thy doom, 
And in thy best consideration check 
This hideous rashness. 

In an amusing passage in one of his lectures Coleridge remarks: 


We have often heard Shakspeare spoken of as a child of nature, and 
some of his modern imitators, without the genius to copy nature, by 
resorting to real incidents, and treating them in a certain way, have 
produced that stage-phenomenon which is neither tragic nor comic, nor 
tragi-comic, nor comi-tragic, but sentimental. This sort of writing 
depends upon some very affecting circumstances, and in its greatest 
excellence aspires no higher than the genius of an onion, the power of 
drawing tears; while the author, acting the part of a ventriloquist, dis- 
tributes his own insipidity among the characters, if characters they can 
be called, which have no marked and distinguishing features. 

If it be admitted that Shakespeare's genius is something higher than 
that of an onion, and that his characters are more than a ventriloquist's 
puppets, if we agree that they are in fact more real than living men, 
or at least give the illusion of greater reality, how does Shakespeare 
bring them to life? In the early plays, as we have seen, when he was 
learning his craft, many of the characters, particularly the main and 
serious ones, do not in fact come to life, and even in his later plays 
minor figures are not always highly individualized; and rightly so, for 
too much vitality in them would detract from that of the major 
characters. In The Tempest^ for instance, Antonio and Sebastian are 
little more than a pair of interchangeable stage- villains, and it would 
be folly to attempt to read too much into them. 

The simplest way of revealing character is, of course, by the 
soliloquy, a convention which Shakespeare employs from first to last, 
from Richard III to The Tempest^ though not indiscriminately, but 
with an increasing range of subtlety. Richard III, like a stock 
character in the medieval plays, ingenuously labels himself as the 
villain of the melodrama 'I am determined to prove a villain'; and 
even as late as Henry IV Prince Henry with equal candour gratuitously 
informs us that he is the hypocrite of the play: 

I know you all, and will awhile uphold 
The unyok'd humour of your idleness. . . . 
Pll so offend, to make offence a skill; 
Redeeming time when men think least I will. 1 

The soliloquies on suicide and murder of Brutus, Hamlet, Othello, 
and Macbeth 2 illustrate admirably the development of Shakespeare's 

1 This speech is, incidentally, an excellent example of Shakespeare's transitional style 
half lyrical, half dramatic. 

To smother up his beauty from the world . . . 
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists 
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him, 

are lines that might have come from the Sonnets. 

* These are quoted in full in Chapter IV, as are a number of other soliloquies. 



dramatic employment of the convention j they are not merely super-: 
ficial pieces of information handed out to the audience like Richard's 
and Henry's, but by virtue of their thought, language, imagery, even 
of their rhythms, are profound spiritual revelations. 

Brutus arid Othello are the two simplest characters, and their 
simplicity is reflected in their speech. Brutus is logical and his tran- 
sitions or thought are rational rather than emotional j the elaborately 
developed figure of ambition and the ladder is typical of his integrity 
and scrupulous analysis of motive (though it must be admitted that it 
is also typical of Shakespeare's manner at this period). Yet he has 
some of Hamlet's love of thought for its own sake, and there is a 
touch of Hamlet in his speech: 

It must be by his death . . . 

He would be crown'd: 

How that might change his nature, there's the question. 
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder, 
And that craves wary walking. Crown him! That! 

which reminds us irresistibly of: 

To be, or not to be, that is the question: . . . 

To die, to sleep, 

No more: and by a sleep to say we end 
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks 
That flesh is heir to, 't is a consummation 
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep: 
To sleep! perchance to dream; ay, there's the rub. 

But Hamlet's thought is much less logical than Brutus's, and the 
rapid sequence of images reflects the emotional leaps of his mind: 

And thus the native hue of resolution 
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought; 
And enterprises of great pitch and moment, 
With this regard their currents turn awry, 
And lose the name of action. 

All the simplicity, nobility, and emotional depth of Othello's nature 
are revealed in his slow-moving lyrical utterance and simple imagery; 
and we hear in the astonishing three-fold repetition of the word cause 
and the five-fold repetition of light an echo of his agonised cry, 'but 
yet the pity of it, lago! O, lago! the pity of it, lago!' but now 
resolved into a harmony that is almost serene: 


It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul; 

Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! 

It is the cause . . . 

Put out the light, and then put out the light: 

If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, 

I can again thy former light restore, 

Should I repent me: but once put out thy light, 

Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature, 
N I know not where is that Promethean heat 
^ That can thy light relume. 

Compare the pitiful serenity of Othello, his resolution, and almost 
sublime belief in the justice of his cause, with Macbeth 's limed and 
struggling soul as reflected in his agitated imagery: 

If it were done when 't is done, then 't were well 
It were done quickly: if the assassination 
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch, 
With his surcease, success; that but this blow 
Might be the be-all and the end-all here, 
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, 
We 'Id jump the life to come. 

But we learn more about the characters from what they say about 
one another than from what they say about themselves. According to 

The characters of the dramatis person*, like those in real life, are to 
be inferred by the reader; they are not told to him. And it is well worth 
remarking that Shakspeare's characters, like those in real life, are very 
commonly misunderstood, and almost always understood by different 
persons in different ways. The causes are the same in either case. If 
you take only what the friends of the character say, you may be deceived, 
and still more so, if that which his enemies say; nay, even the character 
himself sees himself through the medium of his character, and not 
exactly as he is. Take all together, not omitting a shrewd hint from the 
clown or the fool, and perhaps your impression will be right; and you 
may know whether you have in fact discovered the poet's own idea, 
by all the speeches receiving light from it, and attesting its reality by 
reflecting it. 

Consider, for instance, the reflections of Lear in the mirroring words 
of Goneril, Regan, the Fool, Kent, Gloucester, and Edgar; of 
Gloucester in those of Edmund and Edgar; of Goneril in those of 
Cordelia, Kent, Lear, and Albany; while our impression of Cordelia 
is derived very largely from hearsay: 'our joy, although the last, not 


least'; 'since my young lady's going into France, sir, the fool hath 
much pined away'; 'patience and sorrow strove who should express 
her goodliest'; 'kind and dear princess'; 'her voice was ever soft, 
gentle and low'. 

It is not, however, what the characters tell us about themselves or 
even about one another that is the real and final secret of their vitality; 
it is what they say about any subject under the sun, and how they say 
it. As Logan Pearsall Smith so wisely remarks, 'Shakespeare's main* 
device for bringing his characters into existence is simply to make; 
them talk themselves alive'. It is not, of course, true, as Pope main- 1 
tained in a curious outburst of almost Romantic enthusiasm, that 'had 
all the speeches been printed without the very names of the persons, 
one might have applied them with certainty to every speaker'; but he 
was considerably nearer the truth than Tolstoy, for whom 'all his 
characters speak, not a language of their own but always one and the 
same Shakespearean, affected, unnatural language, which not only 
could they not speak, but which no real people could ever have spoken 
anywhere'. It is overwhelmingly true of the main and of many of 
the subordinate characters in Shakespeare's plays that their speech is a 
reflection of themselves: the words they use, their thoughts and tran- 
sitions, their images, even their rhythms are peculiar and vitalising; 
they do indeed talk % themselves alive: 

No sure, my lord, my mother cried, but then there was a star danc'd, 
and under that was I born. 

All studies here I solemnly defy, 

Save how to gall and pinch this Bolingbroke: 

And that same sword-and-buckler Prince of Wales, 

But that I think his father loves him not 

And would be glad he met with some mischance, 

I would have him poison'd with a pot of ale. 

Why, Hal, 'tis my vocation, Hal: 'tis no sin for a man to labour in 
his vocation. 

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral bak'd meats 
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables. 

Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump, 
The spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife, 
The royal banner, and all quality, 
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war. 


Where think'st thou he is now? Stands he, or sits he? 

Or does he walk? or is he on his horse? 

O happy horse, to bear the weight of Antony! 

Do bravely, horse, for wot'st thou whom thou mov'st? 

The demi-Atlas of this earth, the arm 

And burgonet of men. 

One last word. It does not seem to have been remarked that though 
Shakespeare treats of almost every possible form of relationship there 
is no play in which that between mother and daughter can be said to 
be the principal theme, or indeed a theme of any importance at all. 
The majority of the stories are concerned mainly with the affairs of 
lovers, but there are many plays in which some other relationship is 
either the main or at least an important part of the action; man and 
wife: Othello, Macbeth, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale\ brother and 
sister: Twelfth Night ^ Measure for Measure*) father and son: Henry 
IV, Lear, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet; mother and son: Hamlet, 
Coriolanus, Richard II, Richard III, King John, All's Well. The 
relationship between father and daughter seems always to have 
attracted Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus, The Merchant of Venice, As 
You Like It, Lear, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, while Pericles and 
The Tempest are almost exclusively concerned with father and 
daughter, with Pericles and Marina, Prospero and Miranda. But of 
the mother-daughter relationship there is scarcely a trace. It is true 
that Perdita is restored to Hermione, and Marina to Thaisa, but only 
incidentally, because they have previously been restored to their 
fathers; and we scarcely think of Romeo and Juliet in terms of Juliet 
and Lady Capulet, or of The Merry Wives of Windsor in those of 
sweet Anne and Mistress Page. Yet these Perdita, Marina, Juliet, 
and Anne Page are the only heroines who have, as far as we 
know, living mothers at all, and of these Hermione and Thaisa are 
thought to be dead; while the only other women whose mothers 
appear are Katharine of France, and Diana in AWs WelL Think 
of all the other young heroines, of Lavinia, Julia, Silvia, Rosaline, 
Katharine the Shrew, Bianca, Helena, Hermia, Jessica, Portia, Hero, 
Beatrice, Rosalind, Celia, Viola, Olivia, Ophelia, Cressida, Helena, 
Isabella, Desdemona, Cordelia, Virgilia, Imogen, Miranda, and it is 
really very remarkable that none of them has a mother. It cannot be 
that Shakespeare cut their mothers out because boy actors were in- 
capable of taking their parts, for there are plenty of examples of 
middle-aged and elderly women in the plays. It may be that Shake- 
speare consciously or unconsciously avoided the mother-daughter 
relationship owing to some disturbing domestic experience, and in 


compensation emphasised that between father and daughter instead. 
Or it may simply be that mothers are often dramatically a nuisance: 
that competent mothers would have seen to it that Julia and Helena 
did not run away from home after young men, that Hero, Helena, 
Isabella, and Imogen were not insulted and humiliated by insufferable 
youths and jealous husbands, and that Ophelia, Desdemona, and 
Cordelia were not made the innocent victims of their lover's, hus- 
band's, or father's passions and follies. 

It is significant that in the Bandello story which was the original 
of Much Ado^ Hero (Fenicia) had a mother, and that in the first 
stage-direction of the play Shakespeare gives her one, Innogen. She 
is mentioned again in the stage direction at the beginning of Act II, 
but nowhere does she speak or give any indication of her existence. It 
seems probable that Shakespeare originally gave Hero a mother, but 
when he came to the church scene realised that she would have torn 
Don John's flimsy forgeries to tatters and whipped him together with 
the Prince and Claudio out of church with the lash of her tongue. 
She could scarcely be made to act with the imbecility of Leonato, so 
Shakespeare was forced to abandon her. 

Shakespeare seems to have liked his heroines to be free agents 
sometimes they are fatherless as well as motherless, and often they 
appear to be the only child free to act without the restraining in- 
fluence of a sensible^mother, free to run away from home, to disguise 
themselves as boys, and to marry whom they choose. However this 
may be, and however stupid and unworthy of their daughters some of 
the fathers may be, nobody has ever more beautifully depicted the 
relationship between father and daughter than Shakespeare: 

If I have too austerely punish'd you, 

I Your compensation makes amends; for I 
Have given you here a thrid of mine own life, 
Or that for which I live. . . . O Ferdinand, 
Do not smile at me that I boast her off, 
For thou shalt find she will outstrip all praise, 
And make it halt behind her. 



IN Shakespeare's time the London book trade was in the hands of 
The Stationers' Company of London. This Company, with an 
elected Master and two Wardens, had been incorporated by royal 
charter in 1557, and save for the books printed by the university 
presses of Oxford and Cambridge had the monopoly of printing for 
the whole of England. All the London booksellers and most of the 
printers were freemen of the Company, who by entering their 'copy' 
in the Stationers' Register, and by paying a fee of 4^., later 6rf., 
secured the sole right of selling a book, the Company imposing severe 
penalties on breaches of copyright. Books had to be licensed, and in 
1586 by an Order of the Court of Star Chamber licensing was vested 
in the Archbishop of Canterbury and his authorised deputies; in 1607 
the Master of the Revels became ex officio the licenser of plays. 

The normal procedure, then, before the publication of a book 
would be for a member of the Company to secure licence to print, and 
then enter for his copy in the Stationers' Register and pay his fee. 
Thus, for the first of Shakespeare's plays to be entered we read in the 
Stationers' Register: 

1594. vj to die ffebruarii. John Danter. Entred for his Copye vnder 
thandes of bothe the wardens a booke intituled a Noble Roman Historye 
of Tytus Andronicus. vj d . 

In 1 607, when Sir George Buck was Deputy- Master of the Revels, 
is the entry: 

1607. 26 Novembris. Nathanael Butter John Busby. Entred for 
their Copie under thandes of Sir George Buck knight and Thwardens 
A booke called. Master William Shakespeare his historye of Kinge Lear, 
as yt was played before the Kinges maiestie at Whitehall vppon Sainct 
Stephens night at Christmas Last, by his maiesties servantes playinge 
vsually at the Globe on the Banksyde vj d . 

And before Blount and Jaggard published the First Folio they entered 
the plays that had not already been issued as Quartos. 1 

1 They entered only 1 6 of the 1 8. King John and The Taming of The Shrew, neither of which 
had appeared as a Quarto, are omitted, presumably because they passed as reprints of the old 

plays, The Troublesome Reign ofjobn^ King of England and The Taming of A Shrew, on which 
they were based. Tbt third* parte of Henry the sixt must refer to Henry VI fart I, aa 

Parts 2 and 3 had been published as Quartos. 



8 Nouembris 1623. Mr Blounte Isaak Jaggard. Entred for their 
Copie vnder the hands of Mr Doctor Worrall and Mr Cole, warden, 
Mr William Shakspeers Comedyes Histories, and Tragedyes soe manie 
of the said Copies as are not formerly entred to other men, viz. 
Comedyes. The Tempest. The two gentlemen of Verona. Measure 
for Measure. The Comedy of Errors. As You Like It. All's well that 
ends well. Twelft night. The winters tale. Histories. The thirde 
parte of Henry the sixt. Henry the eight. Coriolanus. Timon of Athens. 
Julius Caesar. Tragedies. Mackbeth. Anthonie and Cleopatra. Cym- 

It is probable that, with the exception of the first editions of Venus 
and Adonis^ and of Lucrece dedicated to his patron the Earl of South- 
ampton, Shakespeare had little or nothing to do with the publication 
of any of his works. Plays, in Shakespeare's lifetime, were scarcely 
regarded as literature; they were entertainment for the stage rather 
than serious reading for the study; and even as late as the year of 
Shakespeare's death Ben Jonson was rebuked for his presumption in 
referring to a volume of his plays as his 'Works'. 

A dramatist's play would normally be bought by a company of 
actors for something between ^60 and jioo of our money, when it 
would become their property, the author losing all financial interest 
in it. Normally the players were reluctant to print, either because 
publication might spoil the receipts of the theatre or because plays 
were a reserve capital that might be used in an emergency, so that most 
of the plays produced in Elizabeth's and James I's reigns were never 
printed, and many of them have been lost. In the years 1586-9, for 
instance, no plays were entered for publication in the Stationers' 
Register, though in 1594 there were twenty-three, possibly because 
the players were in need of money after the plague which led to the 
closing of the theatres for the greater part of the years 1593-4.5 and in 
1600 there were nineteen, five of them Shakespeare's, perhaps to 
raise money for the building of the Globe theatre in 1 599 and the 
Fortune in 1600. 

Before the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays was pub-' 
lished in the Folio of 1 623 the poems and plays on the following page 
had already been published separately in Quarto form (reprints of 
Venus and Adonis and Lucrece were mostly in Octavo) : 

Of the nineteen plays published as Quartos those marked B repre- 
sent texts that are so abridged and corrupt that they have earned for 
themselves the name of the 'bad' Quartos, and are no doubt the 
'stolen and surreptitious copies' referred to by Heminge and Condell 
in their Preface to the First Folio. 'There are', writes Sir Edmund 


2O I 

Date of 


Entered S.R. by 

of Qi. 

of Qi. 

of re- 


Ven. & Ad. 












T. Andron. 





B. 1594 

2 Hen. VI 





B. 1595 

3 Hen. VI 

(Pavier, 1602) 




B. 1597 

Rom. & Jul. 




Rich. II 





1 S97 

Rich. Ill 






i Hen. IV 





C? 1598 

L. L. Lost 

(Ling, 1607) 



C. 1599 

Rom. & Jul. 

(Ling, 1607) 

Burby (Q 2) 




2 Hen. IV 

Wise & Aspley 

Wise & Aspley 



M. N. Dream 






M. of Ven. 

i. Roberts 




2. Heyes 


Much Ado 

i. 'To be staied' 

Wise & Aspley 


2. Wise & Aspley 

B. 1600 

Henry V. 

i. 'To be staied' 

Millington & 



2. Pavier 


B. 1602 

M. Wives 

i. Busby 


Creede i J. 

2. Johnson 

B. 1603 



Ling & Trundell 


C. 1604 


Ling|(Q 2) 

Roberts i 

P. 1608 


Butter & Busby 


Snowden j i J. 

P. 1609 


Blount Gosson 

White 3 J. 


Tr. & Cr. 

i. Roberts 

2. Bonian & Walley Bonian & Walley 












B: 'Bad' Quarto. 

C- 'Corrected and augmented' Quarto. 

J: Reprinted by Jagg ird, 1619. 
P: 'Poor' Quarto. 

Chambers, 'constant omissions leaving lacuna in the sense, constant 
paraphrases, constant inversions of the order of sentences, and dis- 
locations in the sequence of dialogue and episodes. The metre is 
bungled; verse lines are wrongly divided; prose is printed as verse and 
verse as prose. . . . The dislocation of matter extends to the incor- 
poration in scenes of phrases which really belong to earlier scenes or 
even to later scenes.' 1 

1 William Shakespeare, vol. i, p. 156. 


It used to be assumed that these corrupt texts had been obtained by 
unscrupulous publishers who sent shorthand writers to the theatres 
and whose notes were later put together by an editor. But as we know 
of no adequate system of shorthand before 1602, and as shorthand 
notes would not account for the dislocation of matter, the theory has 
been rejected in favour of another. It is now thought that these texts 
were reproduced from memory, possibly by actors in the provinces 
who had previously appeared in the plays in London, and then sold 
surreptitiously to a printer on their return to town. This theory is 
supported by the fact that the speeches of some of the characters are 
much more accurate than others: thus in the 1603 Quarto of Hamlet 
the parts of Marcellus and Voltimand are well reproduced while 
those of most of the other characters are mutilated and abridged, as 
though the actors who took these minor parts remembered their own 
lines but were much less accurate when it came to reproducing the 
rest of the play. 

It was, no doubt, to prevent the public's being abused with these 
surreptitious copies that the corrected and enlarged Quartos (marked 
C) of Romeo and Juliet (1599) and of Hamlet (1604) were issued. 
Possibly, too, the Love's Labour's Lost Quarto of 1598, the first of 
Shakespeare's plays to be published with his name, was the reply to 
an earlier and garbled version similar to those of the other bad Quartos. 

The two late plays marked P, King Lear (1608) and Pericles 
(1609), though not so bad as the 'bad' Quartos, may nevertheless be 
ranked as poor: the punctuation is bad, there are mislinings and 
omissions, and long passages of verse are printed as prose. They are 
late enough to have been reproduced by John Willis's system of 
shorthand popularised by the publication of his book The Art of 
Stenography in 1602; and that this method of reproduction was some- 
times practised is proved by Thomas Heywood, who at about this 
time wrote in the prologue to his If You Know Not Me, You Know 
Nobody, how, 

Some by stenography drew 
The plot: put it in print: (scarce one word true.) 

Eight of these plays (marked J), Henry VI 2 and 3, A Midsummer 
Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Henry V, The Merry Wives 
of Windsor, King Lear, and Pericles^ were reprinted in 1619, many 
of them with false dates. Recent research has proved that these plays, 
together with two others, Sir John Oldcastle and A Yorkshire Tragedy^ 
both of which were ascribed to Shakespeare, were, in spite of their 
misleading dates, printed in 1619 by William Jaggard, who four years 


The Tragicall Hiftorfe of 


Prince of Denmarke* 


1. QTandtwhoisthat? 

2. L^TisI. 

1 . O you come mofl carefully vpon your watch, 
a* And if you mectc M*n*U#$ and Horatio^ 
The partners of my watch, bid them make hade. 
1 . 1 will : See who goes there. 

nter Horatio andMarcett**. 
Her. Friends to this ground. 
Mar. AndleegementotheDane^ 

farewell honcft fouldicr, who hath releeued you} 

1 . Btrntrd* hath my place, giueyou good night. 
Mar. Hollo, Bamardo. 

2* Say, \\Ji0rati9 there! 

Her. Apecccofhim. 

a. Welcome Hortth* welcome good MtrctUm* 

MAT. What hath this thing appeared agairte to night 

1. I hauefccnc nothing. 

Mar. Horath fayes tis but our fantafie* 

And wil not let bcliefetakc hold of him, 

Touching this dreaded fight twice fccnc by v*, 

B There- 

Qi. 1603. THE 'BAD' QUARTO. 


later printed the First Folio. The history of these publications is 
obscure, but it seems probable that Jaggard planned to issue these ten 
plays in one volume, although the texts of six of them were corrupt 
or poor, and two were not by Shakespeare at all. Not unnaturally 
Shakespeare's Company, the King's Men, complained, and Jaggard 
issued the plays separately, some of them with false dates to disguise 
the fact that they were a new edition. 

The men whose methods are not above suspicion are John Danter, 
who published the surreptitious edition of Romeo and Juliet without 
registration; Thomas Millington, the publisher of the reported texts 
of 2 and 3 Henry VI^ and that of Henry V, which the Chamberlain's 
Men had tried to 'stay'; and John Busby, who was associated with 
Millington. On the other hand Cuthbert Burby, the publisher of the 
'corrected and augmented' Lovers Labours Lost and Romeo and 
Juliet^ and Andrew Wise, who was responsible for five good 
Quartos, two in association with William Aspley, appear to have 
been exemplary. 

In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death, the first collected 
edition of his plays was published in Folio form, a large volume of 
nine hundred double-column pages. This First Folio was edited by 
two of Shakespeare's fellow actors and friends, John Heminge and 
Henry Condell, and printed by Jaggard and Blount; its price was 
probably about ^i/and something between two hundred and fifty 
and a thousand copies were printed 'at the Charges of W. Jaggard, 
Ed. Blount, I. Smithweeke, and W. Aspley'. 

The title-page reads: 

Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies Pub- 
lished according to the True Originall Copies. London. Printed by 
Isaac laggard, and Ed. Blount. 1623. 

And again the head-title affirms that the plays are: 

The Workes of William Shakespeare, containing all his Comedies, 
Histories and Tragedies: Truely set forth, according to their first 

This reiterated claim that the plays are printed from Shakespeare's 
original manuscripts is further insisted upon in the epistle to 'the 
great variety of readers' with which Heminge and Condell introduce 

Where (before) you were abus'd with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious 
copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of iniurious 



impostors, that expos'd them: euen those, are now ofFer'd to your view 
cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their 
numbers, as he conceiued them. 

Not only this, but they tell us that Shakespeare's 'mind and hand 
went together: And what he thought, he uttered with that easinesse, 
that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers'. We can, 
therefore, scarcely doubt that for many, or perhaps most, of the plays 
Heminge and Condell really had access to Shakespeare's original 

At the same time, the epistle, which is primarily an appeal to the 
public to buy the book, should be interpreted with caution. The 
editors do not say that all the copies were stolen and surreptitious, but 
only that divers of them were, and no doubt they were referring to 
the six 'bad' Quartos; nor did they print from manuscripts when 
good Quarto texts were available, reproduction from which was so 
much easier, though no doubt they referred to them. Only when 
there was no Quarto, or no good Quarto, had they to rely on the 
original manuscript, or failing that on a transcript. 

The plays are printed in the following order (Q indicating those 
that had already appeared as Quartos): 



Two Gentlemen of Verona. 
Q. Merry Wives of Windsor. 

Measure for Measure. 

Comedy of Errors. 
Q, Much Ado About Nothing. 
Q. Love's Labour's Lost. 
Q. Midsummer Night's Dream. 
Q. Merchant of Venice. 

As You Like It. 

Taming of the Shrew 

All's Well that Ends Well. 

Twelfth Night. 

Winter's Tale. 


King John. 
Q. Richard II. 
Q. Henry IV Pt. r. 
Q. Henry IV Pt. 2. 
Q. Henry V. 

Henry VI Pt. i. 
Q. Henry VI Pt. 2. 
Q. Henry VI Pt. 3. 
Q. Richard III. 

Henry VIII. 


(Q. Troilus and Cressida.) 

Q. Titus Andronicus. 
Q. Romeo and Juliet. 

Timon of Athens. 

Julius Caesar. 

Q. Hamlet. 
Q. King Lear. 
Q. Othello. 

Antony and Cleopatra. 


The Histories are arranged in historical sequence, and apart from The 
Tempest , Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida^ and Coriolanus, 
the Comedies and Tragedies make some approximation to the chrono- 
logical order of composition. Troilus and Cressida is not included in 
the list of contents, but is printed first in the Tragedy section. Pericles 
is omitted, but was included in the second issue of the Third Folio, 


Altogether, therefore, there are thirty-six plays in the First Folio 
which constitutes the Shakespearean canon. Of these thirty-six plays: 

1 8 have no Quarto, so that we depend on the Folio version for their 
texts, the majority of which were probably set up as Heminge and 
Condell claimed 'according to their first original' that is, from 
Shakespeare's own manuscripts though some of them, Macbeth in 
particular, have theatrical cuts and interpolations. Measure for 
Measure and AWs Well that Ends Well, the texts of which are 
not good, may have been reproduced from a transcript, a prompt- 
copy, or even from the scripts of the parts given to the individual 

1 8 have at least one Quarto text as well as that of the Folio, and these 
may be further sub-divided: 

2 plays: Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet^ with 'bad' first Quartos, 
but good corrected second Quartos on which the Folio text is 

4 plays: Henry VI , Parts 2 and 3, Henry V, The Merry Wives 
of Windsor^ with only 'bad' Quarto texts. These were treated 
like the plays without a Quarto version, and a good text, set up 
from the original manuscript or a transcript, was substituted for 
the corrupt one. 

14 plays (including the second Quartos of Romeo and Juliet 
and Hamlet)^ with approximately parallel Quarto and Folio texts. 
These were nearly all set up from the latest Quarto, though 
sometimes modified after comparison with a manuscript. It is not 
surprising that some of the first Quarto texts are better than the 
reprints in the Folio, for generally speaking the greater the number 
of reprints the greater the accumulation of errors. Even in Love's 
Labour's Lost^ which was reproduced from the only Quarto, the 
printer, according to Professor Dover Wilson's calculation, cor- 
rected 1 17 'errors, reproduced 59, and added 137 of his own. 
Neither Othello^ which was published too late, nor Hamlet^ was 
set up from a Quarto text. 

The Second Folio was printed in 1632 from the First* it made 
some improvements in spelling and metre, and corrected many errors, 
though it added new ones of its own. On the whole the improve- 
ments are considerable. 

The Third Folio of 1663 was printed from the Second, but to a 
second issue of 1664 were added Pericles and six spurious plays, The 
London Prodigal, A Yorkshire Tragedy, Locrine, Cromwell, The 
Puritan Widow, and Sir John Oldcastle^ all of which had already been 


published as the work either of William Shakespeare or of W.S., 
presumably to increase their sales; Sir John Oldcastle^ however, had 
been written by Munday, Drayton, Wilson, and Hathway, who 
according to Henslowe's Diary received 10 for it. 

The Fourth Folio was set up from the Third in 1685. It corrects 
some misprints, makes some new ones, modernises the spelling, and 
retains the spurious pieces. 

In the Folios the plays are divided into Acts, and generally into 
Scenes as well. The entry of characters is indicated, but not always 
their exits. Sometimes the names of the actors appear instead of those 
of the characters, as in Much Ado^ where 'lacke Wilson', the singer, 
replaces the 'Musicke' of the Quarto, thus showing that the com- 
positor was working from a Quarto that had been used as a prompt- 
copy. The location of the scene is not given, but when important 
this is generally indicated by the opening words: 

Thou art perfect then, our ship hath toucht upon 
The Deserts of Bohemia. 

There is no consistency about the Folio. Love's Labour's Lost is 
divided merely into Acts, so is Henry f; six plays, including Romeo and 
Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra^ have no divisions at all. The Winter's 
Tale, Timon of Athens ^ and others have 'The Names of the Actors' at 
the end. The Tempest is divided into Acts and Scenes and has the most 
elaborate stage directions of all. 

In 1709 Nicholas Rowe, dramatist and poet laureate, produced in 
six octavo volumes the first modern and critical edition of Shake- 
speare's plays. Using the Fourth Folio as the basis of his text, he 
modernised the spelling, punctuation, and grammar, completed the 
lists of dramatis persona and the division into acts and scenes, indi- 
cated the entrances and exits of the characters, and in some plays the 
location of the scenes. He prefixed the first formal life of Shakespeare, 
embodying traditions and anecdotes which might otherwise have 
perished. In addition he made more emendations of the text than any- 
body save the editors of the Second Folio. 

Pope was Shakespeare's second editor, completing his edition in 
six Quarto volumes in 1725, the poems appearing in a seventh volume 
edited by Dr. George Sewell. Though Pope claimed to have collated 
the text of the Fourth Folio with that of the earlier Folios and Quartos, 
he based his text on that of Rowe, and carried still further the division 
and location of scenes. But he made arbitrary corrections, relegating 


some passages to the margin and rejecting altogether lines that offended 
his taste. 

In 1726 Lewis Theobald, the most inspired of Shakespeare's 
textual critics, attacked Pope in his Shakespeare Restored, or a speci- 
men of the many errors as well committed as unamended by Mr. Pope 
in his late edition of this poet. 1 In this book occurs the most famous 
and brilliant of all the emendations of Shakespeare's text. Mistress 
Quickly 's account of FalstafFs death in Henry V\ for the Quarto and 
Folio readings, 'His nose was as sharp as a pen, and a table of green 
fields', he substituted 'a' babbled of green fields'. Theobald's edition 
of Shakespeare (1733) establishes him as the first great Shakespearean 
scholar, for though he used Rowe's text he brought to bear his con- 
siderable knowledge of Elizabethan literature and of Shakespeare's 
method, 'ever labouring', as he wrote to Warburton, 'to make the 
smallest deviation that I possibly can from the text; never to alter at 
all where I can by any means explain a passage with sense; nor ever 
by any emendation to make the author better when it is probable the 
text came from his own hands.' Theobald was the first to make a 
study of Shakespeare's sources and of his use of Holinshed's Chronicles^ 
and of North's Plutarch. 

The fourth editor, and one of the worst, was Sir Thomas Hanmer, 
whose edition (1744) was based on Theobald's. He omitted a scene 
from Henry V as 'improper enough as it is all in French, and not 
intelligible to an English audience', and emended Cassio *a fellow 
almost damned in a fair wife', to 'damned in a fair phyz\ It is only 
just to add, however, that some of his emendations were more success- 
ful; for instance, his substitution of 'lym' (bloodhound) for *hym' 
in the line 'Hound or spaniel, brach or lym' in King Lear. 

In 1747 appeared Bishop Warburton's edition based on that of 
Theobald, whom he ungratefully abuses in his preface and recklessly 
emends in his text. 'Surely', wrote Coleridge with reference to 
Warburton's alteration in Twelfth Night of Feste's 'conclusions to 
be as kisses' to 'conclusion to be asked is', 'surely Warburton could 
never have wooed by kisses and won, or he would never have flounder- 
flatted so just and humorous an image into so profound a nihility'. 

Dr. Johnson's edition of 1765 is valuable mainly for its Preface, a 
piece of critical writing of the first importance, and for the short 
introductions to the various plays. He used Warburton's text, but his 
Shakespearean scholarship and reading were insufficient to lead to 
much textual criticism of real value. 

Edward Capell and George Steevens inaugurated a new era in 
Shakespearean scholarship by recognising the importance of the 

1 Pope retaliated by making Theobald the hero of Tbt Dunciad. 


Quartos and studying them instead of relying mainly upon the Folios. 
Capell is said to have transcribed the whole of Shakespeare ten times, 
his important edition of the works appearing in 1768, but the results 
of his study of the Quartos and of the Elizabethan theatre were not 
published until after his death in his Notes and Various Readings and 
The School of Shakespeare. 

In 1766 Steevens reprinted twenty of the Quartos and then added 
the results of his scholarship to Johnson's edition, which he reissued 
in 1773, and in a revised form in 1778. His knowledge of Elizabethan 
literature and history, and his illuminating quotations from Shake- 
speare's contemporaries, made this edition for a long time the standard 
version. Yet he excluded the Poems and Sonnets because 'the strongest 
Act of Parliament that could be passed would fail to compel readers 
into their service', and his later editions are marred by perverse and 
reckless alterations of the text, though enlivened by indecent notes, 
the authority for which he attributed to two innocent clergymen with 
whom he had quarrelled. 

Edward Malone's Attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays 
attributed to Shakespeare were written (1778) is of first-rate import- 
ance. In addition, his researches among records and official papers in 
Stratford and London led to the discovery of much new information 
about Shakespeare's life; he made a study of the sources of the plays, 
of the history of the English stage, and in 1790 published his edition 
of Shakespeare, including the poems and the spurious plays of the 
Third Folio. 

The First Variorum edition of Shakespeare, based on Steevens's 
work, was prepared and published by Isaac Reed in 1803; the Second 
Variorum of 1813 was merely a reprint of the First; the Third 
Variorum, in twenty-one volumes, based on Malone's edition and 
including the notes made by Malone before his death in 1812, was 
published in 1821 by James Boswell the younger, the son of Dr. 
Johnson's biographer. 

In the eighteenth century Shakespearean research had been begun 
in almost every direction, but it had been the work of individuals; the 
nineteenth century was the age of organised and co-operative research. 
The first Shakespeare Society was founded in 1840 by J. P. Collier, 
and its members issued many important publications such as Collier's 
Henslowis Diary and Extracts from the Registers of the Stationers' 
Company, In 1863-6 Clark, Glover, and Wright published the 
Cambridge Shakespeare, and their simultaneous and unannotated 
Globe edition is recognised as the nearest approach to a standard text. 

The two giants of nineteenth-century research were F. J. Furnivall 
and J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps. After the dissolution of the old Shake- 


speare Society on account of Collier's forgeries, Furnivall founded the 
New Shakespeare Society in 1872 and applied himself, and others, to 
the making of verse tests, the study of Shakespeare's background, the 
issue of a series of Quarto reprints and the Transactions of the Society. 
The indefatigable Halliwell-Phillipps accumulated an immense 
amount of material for the study of Shakespeare, his Outlines of the 
Life of Shakespeare (1887) containing in its thousand pages the result 
of his researches, including all the documents then known. 

Furnivall had complained that 'no book by an Englishman exists 
which deals in any worthy manner with Shakespeare as a whole'. 
The German, Gervinus, had done this in his Commentaries of 1 849, 
but England had to wait until 1875 for Edward Dowden's Shakspere: 
His Mind and Art. Sir Sidney Lee's Life of William Shakespeare 
appeared in 1 898, and in this century we have Sir Edmund Chambers's 
monumental William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. 

Finally, there should be some mention of the progress made in a 
new field of research. As early as 1871 Richard Simpson suggested 
that part of the manuscript of the old play, Sir Thomas More^ written 
about 1596, was in Shakespeare's handwriting: 'the way in which 
the letters are formed is absolutely the same as the way in which they 
are formed in the signatures of Shakespeare'. As a result of the work 
of Sir E. M. Thompson, Dr. A. W. Pollard and others, it now seems 
probable that 147 lines of this play are in Shakespeare's autograph. 
If this is so it follows that a knowledge of Shakespeare's handwriting 
and spelling will help in the discovery of what Shakespeare really 
wrote and be an invaluable aid to textual criticism. It is with this 
knowledge that Professor Dover Wilson is editing the New Shake- 



IN 1687 Edward Ravenscroft wrote an Address to his Titus 
Andronicus^ or the Rape of Lavinia^ in which he admitted that his 
play was partly an adaptation of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus^ 
and added: 

I have been told by some anciently conversant with the Stage, thaf 
it was not Originally his [Shakespeare's], but brought by a private Authot 
to be Acted, and he only gave some Master-touches to one or two or 
the Principal Parts or Characters; this I am apt to believe, because 'tis 
the most incorrect and indigested piece in all his Works; It seems rather 
a heap of Rubbish than a Structure. 

Some eighty years later Johnson wrote: 

The three parts of Henry VI. are suspected, by Mr. Theobald, of 
being suppositious, and are declared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly 
not Shakespeare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some obsolete 
words; but the phraseology is like the rest of our author's style, and single 
words, of which, however, I do not observe more than two, can con- 
clude little. 

Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him to judge upon 
deeper principles and more comprehensive views, and to draw his 
opinion from the general effect and spirit of the composition, which he 
thinks inferior to the other historical plays. 

Johnson, however, could not agree with Theobald and Warburton: 

From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; in the productions of 
wit there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and some- 
times the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's works 
one will be the best and one will be the worst. . . . Dissimilitude of 
style, and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may sufficiently show that a 
work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these plays 
no such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the versification, 
and the figures', are Shakespeare's. 

But Coleridge did agree. After quoting the first seven lines of the 
opening speech of I Henry VI (see p. 141) he adds: 



If you do not feel the impossibility of the latter having been written 
by Shakspeare, all I dare suggest is, that you may have ears, for so has 
another animal, but an ear you cannot have, me judice. 

And because he was revolted by the 'disgusting passage of the Porter' 
in Macbeth he rejected it: 

This low soliloquy of the Porter and his few speeches afterwards, I 
believe to have been written for the mob by some other hand, perhaps 
with Shakspeare's consent; and that finding it take, he with the remain- 
ing ink of a pen otherwise employed, just interpolated the words 
Til devil-porter it no further: I had thought to have let in some of all 
professions, that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire'. Of 
the rest not one syllable has the ever-present being of Shakspeare. 1 

In 1833 William Spalding published his Letter on Shake speared 
Authorship of the Two Noble Kinsmen^ in which he maintained that: 

the whole of the first act may be safely pronounced to be Shakespeare's. 
... In the second act no part seems to have been taken by Shakespeare. 
. . . Nothing in the third act can with confidence be attributed to 
Shakespeare, except the first scene. . . . The fourth act may safely be 
pronounced wholly Fletcher's. ... In the fifth act we again feel the 
presence of the*master of the spell. Several passages in this portion are 
marked by as striking tokens of his art as any thing which we read in 
Macbeth or Coriolanus. 

Then in 1850 James Spedding, having overheard a casual remark 
of Tennyson that 'many passages in Henry VIII were very much in 
the manner of Fletcher', asked Who wrote Henry VIU? and, basing 
his opinion on a study of the verse, assigned to Shakespeare only some 
seven scenes and attributed the rest to Fletcher. The probability that 
Shakespeare collaborated with Fletcher in Henry VIII is strengthened 
by the fact that the title-page of the Quarto of The Two Noble Kins- 
men gives the authors as Fletcher and Shakespeare, as do the entries 
in the Stationers' Register both of this play and of the lost Cardenio. 

Then again, AWs Well and Measure for Measure^ both plays of 
Shakespeare's maturity, are remarkably uneven; the first two acts of 
Pericles are manifestly inferior to the last three; and Timon of Athens 
is scarcely a play at all. And what are we to make of the Hecate 
speeches in Macbeth, of the Fool's 'prophecy' in King Lear, and of 
the vision and 'ludicrous scroll' in Cymbelinel 

1 That is to say, Coleridge does not like the Porter's speech, so he denies it to Shakespeare. 
But one sentence in it is too good to lose, so Shakespeare must be at hand to write it. This 
is the very ecstasy of criticism.' Sir Walter Raleigh. 


Doubts as to the authenticity of some of the plays, or at least of parts 
of them, were then expressed even by the first Shakespearean scholars 
of the early eighteenth century; nineteenth-century scholarship added 
more, but it remained for the twentieth century to turn doubt into 
disintegration: to find in almost every play evidence of adaptation, 
collaboration, revision, and abridgment, and to maintain that 'the 
great majority of the plays are simply not of Shakespeare's drafting'. 
For example, the disintegrators hold that Marlowe is mainly re- 
sponsible for The Comedy of Errors^ Richard //, Richard ///, Henry 
V, and Julius Casar\ but they do not always agree, and in Julius 
Casar some recognise the hands not only of Shakespeare and Marlowe, 
but those of Chapman, Jonson, Beaumont, and Drayton as well. 

The disintegration of the Shakespearean canon (the thirty-six plays 
of the First Folio) has been conducted in two ways. One method is by 
the discrimination of styles: if we can so easily detect the language 
and rhythms of Fletcher in Henry PI 1 1, may we not also detect them, 
and those of other dramatists as well, in some of the other plays? 
J. M. Robertson is the leader of this school, finding in A Midsummer 
Night's Dream Shakespeare's 'first, and indeed only complete work'. 
This, of course, does not mean that Shakespeare was not primarily 
responsible for the plays attributed to him, but that there are very few 
in which there is not evidence of other men's work, whether of 
predecessors, contemporaries, or successors, in the form of adaptation, 
collaboration, or revision. 

Others arrive at similar, though by no means always the same, 
conclusions by the bibliographical approach, that is by the careful 
study of the original texts, their discrepancies, stage-directions, 
speech-endings, spelling, punctuation, and so on. Of the fourteen 
comedies Professor Dover Wilson finds only four that are solely 
Shakespeare's workj in the others there are traces of antecedents and 
collaborators, and nearly always of abridgment and revision, and 
even in A Midsummer Night's Dream^ which according to Robertson 
is Shakespeare's 'only complete work', he distinguishes three layers of 
composition and revision. 

But there are much more elaborate and violent reconstructions 
than this, which is after all only Shakespeare's revision of his own 
work. Thus Wilson suggests that Measure for Measure was originally 
an old play merely revised by Shakespeare, that it was abridged by a 
'second-rate collaborator' for performance in 1604, anc ^ then for a later 
production expanded by some unknown hand from this version into 
the text as we know it. For Robertson the play is 'a working recast 
by Shakespeare of a play drafted by Chapman on the basis of the older 
play of Whetstone, or perhaps of an earlier condensation of that two- 


>art drama into a single one 9 . Then again, according to Robertson, 
Henry V was originally written by Marlowe, probably with the 
issistance of Peele and Greene; revised probably by Peele, or perhaps 
)y Chettle, Munday, Heywood, Dekker, or Dray ton j Chapman 
idded some comedy, and the play was finally revised by Shakespeare 
md possibly Chettle. 

Modern Shakespearean critics are able to work with much greater 
jrecision than their predecessors owing to the recent discoveries that 
Jie 'good* Quarto editions of the plays and many of the Folio texts 
^ere printed from theatrical prompt-copy often in Shakespeare's 
tutograph; that the odd punctuation of the Quartos and Folio was 
leliberate, and a guide to the speaking of the lines; and that in the 
nanuscript play of Sir Thomas More we have three pages of Shake- 
ipeare's writing, or at any rate of a hand similar to that of Shakespeare. 

In short we believe that we know how Shakespeare wrote; we have a 
definite clue to his system of punctuation; we feel confident that often 
nothing but a compositor stands between us and the original manu- 
script; we can at times even creep into the compositor's skin and catch 
glimpses of the manuscript through his eyes. The door of Shakespeare's 
workshop stands ajar. 1 

With such instruments the disintegration of the canon and the 
theoretical reconstruction of the way in which the plays were com- 
posed is fascinating work and a fascinating pastime but not without 
danger, for once we abandon the authority of the Folio 'we have lost 
sur only safe anchorage, and are afloat upon a wild and violent sea, 
subject to every wind of doctrine'. No doubt the composition of the 
plays is more complex, and their material less homogeneous than was 
ance assumed, but to see evidence of adaptation when Shakespeare 
was careless or in a hurry, and of collaboration when he was bored, 
to deduce from every inconsistency some elaborate theory of revision 
3r abridgment, is at the best over-enthusiasm, at the worst the 
dangerous abuse of criticism. This is an over-statement of the case 
and not a belittlement of the immensely valuable work of modern 
Shakespearean scholars, who do not in fact draw hasty conclusions or 
abandon the authority of the Folio, but only dispute the claim of 
Heminge and Condell that the plays are 'absolute in their numbers, 
as Shakespeare conceived them*. This we all do, for we are all dis- 
integrators up to a point: there are certain passages that we know 
cannot have been written by Shakespeare; it is only a question of 
degree, but the new weapons of scholarship are two-edged, and in the 

1 I. Dover Wilton: Textual Introduction to <Tb* Nfto SbaJustear*. 


hands of the unskilful might lead eventually to the cynical and com- 
plete decomposition of the canon. 

The main evidence in favour of Shakespeare's authorship of the 
plays is their inclusion in the First Folio by Heminge and Condell, 
Shakespeare's friends and fellow-actors, who must have known as 
well as anybody exactly what he wrote; and in their Prefaces to the 
Folio they are at pains to make clear how seriously they took their 
task. In their dedication to the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery 
they wrote: 

It hath bin the height of our care, who are the Presenters, to make 
the present worthy of your H.H. by the perfection ... we most humbly 
consecrate to your H.H. these remaines of your seruant Shakespeare; 
that what delight is in them, may be ever your L.L. the reputation his, 
& the faults ours, if any be committed, by a payre so carefull to shew 
their gratitude both to the liuing, and the dead. 

And more breezily in the epistle To the great Variety of Reader s: 

It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to haue bene wished, that 
the Author himselfe had iiu'd to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne 
writings; But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death 
departed from that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the 
office of their care, and paine, to haue collected & published them; and 
so to haue published them, as where (before) you were abus'd with 
diuerse stolne, and surreptitious copies, maimed, and deformed by the 
frauds and stealthes of injurious impostors, that expos'd them: even 
those are now offer'd to your view cur'd, and perfect of their limbes; 
and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he conceiued them. 

Admittedly seventeenth-century standards of editorship were not as 
high as they are to-day, but great weight must be given to their 
testimony: 'the height of our care ... by the perfection , . . these 
remaines of your seruant Shakespeare ... a payre so carefull . . . His 
owne writings . . . perfect of their limbes ... as he conceiued them'. 
There are thirty-six plays in the Folio. Of these, three were 
entered in the Stationers' Register as being by Shakespeare before 
their publication as Quartos, and sixteen of the eighteen that were not 
published as Quartos were registered as Shakespeare's in the composite 
entry of Blount and Jaggard in 1623 before the publication of the 
Folio. Of the eighteen plays published as Quartos, fifteen have 
Shakespeare's name on the tide-page. Then in 1598 Francis Meres 
in his Palladia Tamia named twelve plays as being by Shakespeare, 
including Lout labours wonne, which very probably refers to The 



Taming of the Shrew. In addition, before the publication of the 
Folio, Jonson, Weever, Harvey, and the anonymous author of 
Parnassus mention certain plays as Shakespeare's, and the Revels 
Account for 1 604-5 names 'Shaxberd' as the author of Mesur for 
Mesur y The plate of Err or s> and the Martchant of Venis. The evidence 
can perhaps best be appreciated in the form of a table, 'S.R.' meaning 
the first attribution of the play to Shakespeare in the Stationers' 
Register, *Q.' in a Quarto, and 4 M.' mentioned by Meres. 




Other References. 

2 Hen. VI. 

03. 1619 

3 Hen. VI. 

Q3. 1619 

i Hen. VI 


Rich. Ill 

Q2. 1598 


Parnassus, 1601 

T. Andron. 


C. of Err. 



Revels Account, 1604-5 

2 Gent. 



L. L. Lost 

Qi. 1598 


R. & Juliet 


Weever, 1599 

Rich. II 

Qz. 1598 


Weever, 1599 

T. of Shrew 


M. N. Dream 

Qi. 1600 


Ring John 


M. of Venice 

Qi. 1600 


Revels Account, 1604-5 

i Hen. IV 

Q2. 1599 


2 Hen. IV 


Q. 1600 


Merry Wives 

Qi. 1602 

Henry V 

Much Ado 


Q. 1600 

As Y. L. It 


Tw. Night 


J. Caesar 


Jonson, 1623-37 


Qi. 1603 

Harvey, 1601 

T. & Cressida 

Q. 1609 

All's Well 


M. for Measure 


Revels Account, 1604-5 


Qi. 1622 





Qi. 1608 



A. & Cleopatra 






W's. Tale 


Jonson, 1619 



Henry VIII 



If we assume that Loue labours wonne is The Taming of the Shrew 
it will be seen that Meres mentions all Shakespeare's plays written by 
the summer of 1 598, with the exception of the three parts of Henry 
VI. The two plays not entered by Blount and Jaggard in the 
Stationers' Register in 1623 are The Taming of the Shrew and King 
John, presumably because they were confused with the earlier source- 
plays The Taming of a Shrew and The Troublesome Reign of King 
John, which had been entered and published many years before. The 
three plays published as Quartos but without Shakespeare's name are 
Titus Andronicus, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry V, and of these Henry 
V is the only one of the canon without external evidence of Shake- 
speare's authorship other than that of its inclusion in the Folio. On 
the other hand, the only external evidence against his authorship of 
any one of the plays is Ravenscroft's reference to Titus Andronicus 
quoted at the beginning of this chapter. All argument, therefore, 
against the authority of the Folio must be based on internal evidence, 
on the plays themselves. 

At the same time it should be remembered that three of the plays 
added to the Third Folio in 1 664, Locrine, Cromwell, and The Puritan, 
were originally published as being written by W.S., the other four, 
Sir John Oldcastle, A Yorkshire Tragedy, The London Prodigal, and 
Pericles, being openly ascribed to Shakespeare, and the 1611 Quarto 
of The Troublesome Reign named W. Sh. as the author, that of 1622 
W. Shakespeare. All these, except for the last three acts of Pericles, 
are generally admitted to be apocryphal, partly on the external evidence 
that they were not included in the First Folio, but mainly on the 
internal evidence that they arc un-Shakespearean. The mere fact 
of publication with Shakespeare's name, then, is no guarantee of 
authenticity, but inclusion in the First Folio almost certainly is, just 
as exclusion almost certainly is a guarantee of spuriousness. But not 
quite. Pericles was excluded by Heminge and Condell and Henry 
Vlll included, although it seems probable that there is more of Shake- 
speare in the former than in the latter. 

The external evidence in favour of Shakespeare's authorship of 
the plays in the First Folio is so strong that the internal evidence 
against any play or part of a play should be overwhelming before it 
is accepted, for, as Sir Walter Raleigh wrote: 

No critical ear, however highly respected, can safely set itself up against 
the evidence of Shakespeare's friends. It is wiser to believe that the 
plays in the Folio were attributed to Shakespeare either because they 
were wholly his, or because they were recast and rewritten by him, or, 


lastly, because they contain enough of his work to warrant the attribu- 
tion. 1 

It is, as was said above, a question of degree; most of the plays are 
wholly Shakespeare's, and though some contain the work of other 
men, 'they contain enough of his work to warrant the attribution* to 
Shakespeare. But sometimes the disintegrators allow precious little; 
according to Robertson, for instance, Richard HI is primarily Mar- 
lowe's, and Shakespeare, 'however much he may have revised, con- 
tributes only some six or seven speeches, some of them very short'; 
and Richard 77, too, is substantially Marlowe's, with some adaptation 
by Shakespeare. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote forty years ago, before the 
days of large-scale disintegration, but even then there was 'a wide 
margin for conjecture, and the case would be desperate were it not 
for one significant consolation. None of the plays which have been 
shown to belong to the middle period of Shakespeare's career, in- 
cluding his maturer histories and comedies, and most of the great 
tragedies, has ever been challenged.' Yet no plays have been more 
violently assailed in recent years than Henry V and Julius Casar. 

The probability that Shakespeare sometimes partly rewrote his own 
work will at once be admitted, and there is evidence that there 
may have been other versions of Alfs Well^ A Midsummer Nighfs 
Dream, Love's Labpur*s Lost, and even of Much Ado^ but that a great 
creative artist should make a practice of this is improbable. However,, 
an author's revision of his own work still remains his own. But it Is 
another matter when it is assumed that Shakespeare was in the habit 
of adapting other men's plays not 'recasting and rewriting', that is, 
treating them as sources as he treated Holinshed, Plutarch, and 
Bandello, but merely adapting, revising, adding 'some Master- 
touches to one or two of the Principal Parts or Characters'. No 
doubt the first plays attributed to him, Henry VI and Titus Andronicus^ 
are partly adaptations, but again, such a pedestrian and spiritually 
unsatisfying mode of composition is almost inconceivable in one with 
the creative energy of Shakespeare. Nor is there any evidence save 
Ravenscroft's that he ever did adapt other men's work, and none that 
he made a practice of it. On the contrary, when he made use of an 
old play it was as a source: King John incorporates one line of The 
Troublesome Reign y and King Leir and his Three Daughters is com- 
pletely refashioned in King Lear. That there were hack writers who 
revised and adapted other men's work is true, but that Shakespeare 
was one of them is, to say the least, improbable. 

Collaboration was a common practice among the Elizabethan and 

1 Sbakespeart, p. 108. 


Jacobean dramatists, and towards the end of his career there is external 
evidence that Shakespeare collaborated with Fletcher in The Two 
Noble Kinsmen and Gardenia^ internal evidence of collaboration in 
Henry VIII, and both internal and the external evidence of exclusion 
from the First Folio of collaboration in Pericles. Possibly there was 
some collaboration in his early plays, in The Taming of the Shrew for 
example, but apart from this and the plays already mentioned there 
is no obvious indication of more than one hand at work. 

The most palpably un-Shakespearean passages in the canon are 
those that have%>een added later by other men: the simpering Hecate 
in Macbeth, the tool's prophetic jingle in King Lear, the vision and 
the 'ludicrous scroll' in Cymbeline perhaps being the most obvious. 
But in addition, as the first printed texts were often set up from 
theatrical prompt Copies, patches of gagging, foolery, and 'business' 
\tere almost inevitably tacked on to many of the plays, particularly 
to those that were not published until 1623. Again, the first half of 
the seventeenth century was the age of the masque, and any excuse 
for a spectacular interlude, as in Macbeth and Cymbeline^ would 
eagerly be seized upon by producers and incorporated in the book- 
keeper's prompt copy, sometimes perhaps at the expense of the text, 
which might be cut to make time for the elaboration. 

It would be foolish to maintain that every word of the thirty-six 
plays in the First Folio was written by Shakespeare, or even that every 
word in any one play is his; that would be to defend the untenable 
position of the literary reactionary or fundamentalist. In the early 
plays there are occasional outcrops of his predecessors' work, in some 
of the later plays there is undoubted collaboration with his con- 
temporaries, and all of them are liable to have gathered accretions in 
the course of successive productions. There are certain passages in 
the plays that are so obviously un-Shakespearean that all critics will 
agree, but when one critic detects the hand of Marlowe, another that 
of Greene or maybe of Peele, and yet another that of Chapman, it is 
safest to assume that the passage was after all, as Heminge and 
Condell would have us believe, written by Shakespeare. 

Disintegration must not be confused with dissolution. There is, 
of course, no connection between the disintegrators and the Baconians; 
the first are serious critics like J. M. Robertson incidentally the 
author of a book confuting the Baconian heresy who claim that 
they can trace the work of other men in the plays; the others demolish 
Shakespeare altogether by denying that he had anything to do with 
the plays at all. 

The first suggestion that Bacon was the author of Shakespeare's 
plays seems to have been made by Herbert Lawrence in 1769, but 


it was only after the publication of J. C. Hart's The Romance of 
Yachting (1848) and Who wrote Shakespeare? (1852), followed by 
W. H. Smith's Bacon and Shakespeare (1856), that the Baconian 
theory began to take shape and to attract its fanatical supporters. 
Since then hundreds of books and articles have been published on the 
subject. But of recent years there have been heresies in the anti- 
Stratfordian ranks, some preferring as the author of the plays Roger 
Manners the 1 5th Earl of Rutland, others William Stanley the 6th 
Earl of Derby, and others again Edward de Vere the iyth Earl of 
Oxford. Bacon, however, still remains the favourite claimant, but 
supporters of all four noble lords are agreed in being anti-Stratfordians 
and maintaining that whoever wrote the plays it certainly was not 
William Shakespeare. ^ 

This negative attitude was originally a natural reaction^to the 
hyperbolical claims put forward by the over-enthusiastic Stratrordians 
of last century, that not only was Shakespeare the world's greatest 
poet and dramatist but the greatest scholar and- philosopher of his 
time: his knowledge of the law was so great that he must have been 
a lawyer, of Courts that he must have been a courtier, of the classics 
that he must have been a profound scholar. Such claims of course 
are silly; Jonson and Chapman, neither of whom was a lawyer, 
display as wide and deep a knowledge of legal phraseology as Shake- 
speare; Marlowe and Jonson certainly had more scholarship, and 
almost any of the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists was as much 
at home in Court life as Shakespeare, though he had the advantage 
of being one of the King's Men and taking part in many performances 
at Court. There is little evidence of any great profundity of know- 
ledge; he probably knew more about natural history than about law, 
and about gardens than mythology; it is the breadth of his knowledge 
and of his sympathy that is so remarkable. 

One of the best known, or at any rate most often met with, pro- 
Baconian books appears to be Bacon is Shakespeare, by Sir Edwin 
Durning-Lawrence, Bt., published in 1910. It is possible that some 
Baconians are unable to accept all the rarer proofs of Bacon's author- 
ship, but the book displays such a simple faith and lack of affectation 
and laboured art that it can scarcely fail to attract the reader. Perhaps 
as good a way as any of giving an idea of the Baconian thesis is by 
summarising this book, though it is not always easy to follow the 
elusive argument. 

The author begins disarmingly by agreeing whole-heartedly with 
the Stratfordians that 'the mighty author of the immortal plays was 
gifted with the most brilliant genius ever conferred upon man': 
classical scholars are amazed at his prodigious knowledge of classical 


lore; one of the greatest students of law 'was not ashamed to confess 
that he had not sufficient legal knowledge or mental capacity to 
enable him to fully comprehend a quarter of the law contained in the 
plays'. It is true that at a dark period for English literature certain 
critics denied the possibility of Bohemia's being accurately described 
as by the sea, but now that we know better we must admit that it is 
only men of small learning, knowing very little of classics and still 
less of geography and the law, who fail to appreciate the vast store of 
learning exhibited in the plays. 

Having established the fact that the dramatist was a 'universal 
genius', the baronet turns sharply on the Stratfordians and asks them 
if the provincial grammar-school boy could conceivably have become 
such a ipa/i. Lord Palmerston, Lord Houghton, John Bright, Ralph 
Waldo $merson, John Greenleaf Whittier, Dr. W. H. Furness, Mark 
Twain, and Prince Bismarck apparently had their doubts; even 
'Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the eminent British critic and poet, 
although he assumed that Shakespeare was the author of the Plays, 
rejected the facts of his life and character, and says: "Ask your own 
hearts, ask your own common sense, to conceive the possibility of the 
author of the Plays being the anomalous, the wild, the irregular 
genius of our daily criticism. What! are we to have miracles in sport? 
Does God choose idiots by whom to convey divine truths to man?" ' 
This is perhaps a little unfair, for to the ordinary reader Coleridge 
seems to be trying to prove that Shakespeare, the author of the plays, 
was not a wild irregular genius, but a great poet whose judgment 
'was not less deserving our wonder than his genius'. 

But after all, what do we know of Shakespeare's life? Certainly 
not the legends contained in Sir Sidney Lee's 'romance which he 
calls the "Life" of Shakespeare'. The truth is that we know prac- 
tically nothing about Shakespeare, and what we do know is for the 
most part discreditable. He was born at Stratford of illiterate parents 
(we do not know that he went to school there); apparently he tried 
to desert Anne Hathaway whdtn he had seduced, and soon after 
marriage did desert her and her three children; he became an actor 
in London, bought a house in Stratford, and engaged in purchases 
and sales and law-suits which indicate his mercenary and litigious 
nature; he obtained a grant of arms by false pretences, promoted the 
enclosure of common lands at Stratford after being guaranteed against 
personal loss, and died without a book in his possession, leaving his 
wife, as an after-thought, his second-best bed. There are no records 
of friendship with anyone more cultivated than his fellow-actors; no 
letters; and no references to his death before the First Folio in 1623. 
That the Stratford actor could not even write is suggested by the 


fact that he did not even sign his will, the three signatures of which 
were written by the solicitor who drew it up a fact which is con- 
clusively proved in an article by Magdalene Thumm-Kintzel in a 
Leipzig magazine. And of course if he could not sign his own will 
he could not have written the two other so-called signatures to the 
deed of purchase and the mortgage of the house in Blackfriars. There 
is therefore 'a possibility, practically amounting to a certainty, that 
the Stratford actor could not so much as manage to scrawl his own 
name'. And if he could not write his name how could he have 
written the plays? 'As a matter of fact, not a single scrap of evidence, 
contemporary or otherwise, exists to show that Shakspere, the house- 
holder of Stratford-on-Avon, wrote the plays or anything else.' 

That Shakespeare really was an illiterate boor is proved by con- 
temporary references, veiled, it is true, but clear enough to leave no 
doubts in any unprejudiced mind. There is, for instance, an allusion 
in Jonson's Every Man out of His Humour which was acted in 1599, 
the very year of Shakespeare's grant of arms. In this play Sogliardo, 
'an essential clown' who obtains a grant of arms with the motto Not 
Without Mustard^ is clearly Shakespeare, while Puntarvolo, whose 
crest is a Boar, 'must be intended to represent Bacon' (though it is 
perhaps not quite so transparent why Jonson in his notes on the 
characters should call him 'a vain-glorious knight' subject to public 
derision). Again in the tract, Ratse?s Ghost, Ratsei the robber 
ironically advises an ambitious and mercenary country player, who 
must be Shakespeare, to buy 'some place of lordship in the country, 
that, growing weary of playing, thy mony may there bring thee to 
dignitie and reputation; then thou needest care for no man, nor not 
for them that before made thee prowd with speaking their words upon 
the stage'. The Return from Parnassus^ too, has an obvious allusion 
to the ungrateful and grasping Stratfordian as one of 'those glorious 
vagabonds' who 'With mouthing words that better wits have framed, 
They purchase lands, and now Esquiers are made'. But the most 
conclusive proof of Shakespeare's illiteracy comes in As You Like //, 
for once we have realised that Touchstone is really Bacon (disguised 
this time as a clown), and that Awdrey is the plays ascribed to Shake- 
speare Touchstone of course being unwilling to be married to 
Awdrey by a Mar-Text it is easy to see that the rustic William is, 
without any attempt at disguise, the clownish William Shakespeare of 
Stratford himself. For William was born in the Forest of Arden; he 
says 'Thank God', as he did in the character of Sogliardo; he is rich, 
but only rich for a clown; he says he has a pretty wit, 'a phrase we 
must remember that is constantly used in reference to the Stratford 
actor. Touchstone mocks him with a paraphrase of the well-known 


maxim, "If you are wise you are a Foole, if you be a Foole you are 
wise", which is to be found in Bacon's Advancement of Learning. 
Then he asks him "Art thou learned?" and William replies "No sir." 
This means, unquestionably^ as every lawyer must know, that William 
replies that he cannot read one line of print.' 

After this can we any longer doubt that the writer 'has convinc- 
ingly proved that this child of illiterate parents' was incapable of 
writing his own name, let alone of writing the most wonderful plays 
of all time? And that this man 'never wrote the plays . . . is just what 
everybody else is saying at Eton, at Oxford, at Cambridge, in the 
Navy, in the Army, and pretty generally among unprejudiced people 
everywhere'. When therefore we are invited to look at the 'so-called 
portrait' of Shakespeare drawn by Martin Droeshout for the First 
Folio of 1623, we are not surprised when it turns out to be 'a cun- 
ningly drawn cryptographic picture, shewing two left arms and a 
mask'. Ben Jonson's verses on the page opposite the portrait make 
this quite clear: 

To the Reader. 
This Figure, that thou here seest put, 

It was for geatle Shakespeare cut; 
Wherein the Grauer had a strife 

With Nature, to out-doo the life: 
O, could he but haue drawne his wit 

As well in brasse, as he hath hit 
His face; the Print would then surpasse 

All, that was euer writ in brasse. 
But, since he cannot, Reader, looke 

Not on his Picture, but his Booke. 

B. I. 

Simply by transposing out-doo in line 4 we get doo-out^ or conceal that 
is, 'shut out the real face of the living man'; and if we read hid for 
hit in line 6 it is clear that 'the real author is writing left-handedly, 
that means secretly, in shadow, with his face hidden behind a mask or 

Leonard Digges's lines in the Folio, To the Memory of W. Shake- 
spearty confirm this. When he wrote 'When Time dissolves thy 
Stratford Moniment', of course he meant 'When Time dissolves thy 
Stratford Mask'. The original monument was like the one illustrated 
in Dugdale's Antiquities of Warwickshire (1656), where the figure 
'hugs a sack of wool, or a pocket of hops to its belly and does not hold 
a pen in its hand', plainly showing .that the Stratford actor had no 
connection with literature, and everybody in Stratford must have 


known that he could not write so much as his own name. The present 
monument with the large pen in the right hand representing a literary 
man was substituted for the old effigy about 1740. 'Of course, the 
false bust in the existing monument was substituted for the old bust 
for the purpose of fraudulently supporting the Stratford myth.' 

But this is not all. With the headline 'To the Reader' and the 
signature 'B.I.' there are twelve lines in Jonson's verses and, if the 
two v.v.'s in line 9 be counted as four letters, there are 287 letters. 
This number 287 is important, but here it is sufficient to say that 
we are 'informed' that the 'Great Author' intended to reveal himself 
287 years after 1623, the date of the First Folio, that is in 1910, the 
very year in which Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence published his 

Shakespeare having been so satisfactorily disposed of as, in the 
words of Every Man out of His Humour^ 'a swine without a head, 
without brain, wit, anything indeed', it only remains to find a suitable 
author for the plays. For this distinction there can be only one 
serious candidate, the universal genius who in the days of Queen 
Elizabeth for the first time appeared in human history, the marvel 
and mystery of the age, Francis Bacon. For, as the plays were written 
by a universal genius, as there had only once in the history of the 
world been such, a phenomenon, as that phenomenon was Bacon, 
then Bacon must have written the plays. The argument is flawless; 
there is no escaping that inexorable logic. Nor is it any more difficult 
to prove from the plays themselves that Bacon wrote them than it 
was to prove that Shakespeare did not write them. Since, however, 
Bacon's verse, a translation of a few of the Psalms^ scarcely strength- 
ens the Baconian case, it is first necessary to establish the fact that 
Bacon was a poet. Fortunately there is plenty of evidence of this. 

In 1645 was published anonymously The Great missises holden in 
Parnassus by A 'folio and his Assessours, in which Bacon is designated 
Chancellor of Parnassus, which of course means 'greatest of poets'. 
In one column are printed the names of the twelve Jurors, all poets 
(except Shakespeare), and in a parallel column is a list of the Male- 
factors. 'A little examination will teach us that the jurors are really 
the same persons as the malefactors and that we ought to read right 
across the page as if the dividing line did not exist.' This being so, 
Shakespeare is the malefactor described as 'the writer of weekly 
accounts. This exactly describes him, for the only literature for which 
he was responsible was the accounts sent out by his clerk or attorney.' 
But the most valuable testimony is that of Ben Jonson, 1 who in his 

1 Ben Jonson was in the secret. He himielf was one of Bacon's left hands, as we can tee 
from his bust in Westminster Abbey, which wears a left-handed coat. 


Discoveries says of Bacon that he 'hath filled up all numbers, and 
performed that in our tongue, which may be compared or preferred 
either to insolent Greece, or haughty Rome'. 'He who hath filled up 
all numbers' means unquestionably 'He that hath written every kind 
of poetry'. After this contemporary evidence the author finds it 
difficult to understand how anyone can venture to dispute Bacon's 
position as pre-eminent in poetry, but lest there is anybody who is 
still troubled by lingering loyalties to Stratford he has only to read 
The Defence of Poetry, where Shelley roundly declares 'Bacon was a 
poet' in a passage that makes the same claim for Plato and Cicero. 

It will probably be admitted that the weakest part of the Baconian 
thesis is the explanation of why it was necessary for Bacon to conceal 
his identity by writing under assumed names. Sir Edwin maintains 
quite simply that it would have been dangerous to write under his 
own name, and cites the case of Chapman, Marston, and Jonson who 
were imprisoned for writing Eastward Hoe^ and the wrath of Elizabeth 
at the deposition scene in Richard II. This does not seem an entirely 
convincing explanation as, apart from Richard //, the plays appear 
to be innocuous enough; but doubtless Bacon had weighty reasons 
unknown to us for going to such trouble to conceal his identity and 
at the same time to make sure that his authorship should be revealed 
after his death. But even then it is a little puzzling why he should 
have allowed such a large margin of safety as the year 1910 for the 
revelation, when he could scarcely have expected to have lived longer 
than 1660, when he would have been a hundred. 

The author is on surer ground again when it comes to the fascinat- 
ing business of explaining how Bacon reveals himself in the plays and 
poems. After an almost casual and tantalisingly brief reference to 
As You Like It 'which of course means "Wisdom from the Mouth 
of a fool" ' in which he shows that Bacon was Jaques as well as 
Touchstone, he turns to the Sonnets^ number 81 being particularly 
revealing. 'Perhaps', he says, truly enough, 'the reader will better un- 
derstand Sonnet 81 if I insert the words necessary to fully explain it.' 

Or I [Bacon] shall live your epitaph to make, 

Or you [Shakespeare] survive when I in earth am rotten; 

From hence your memory death cannot take, 

Although in me each part will be forgotten. 

Your name [Shakespeare] from hence immortal life shall have, 

Though I [Bacon], once gone, to all the world must die: 

The earth can yield me but a common grave, 

When you entombed in men's eyes shall lie. 

Your monument shall be my [not your] gentle verse, 

Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read, 



And tongues to be your being [which as an author was not] shall re- 
When all the breathers of this world are dead; 

You [Shakespeare] still shall live, such virtue hath my pen [not your 

own pen, for you never wrote a line], 
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men. 

Small wonder that after the writer had learned the true meaning 
of Sonnet 81 his eyes were opened to the inward meaning of other 
Sonnets; number 76, for instance, repeats the same tale: 

Why write I still all one, ever the same, 
And keep invention in a noted weed? 

and we are asked to remark especially the phrase 'in a noted weed', 
which means in a 'pseudonym'. 

The Tempest was written purposely to afford a clue to his identity. 
Bacon, of course, is Prospero each had a brother Anthony and 
Shakespeare is the drunken Stephano Shakespeare died from the 
effects of a drunken bout. 'The falsely crowned and gilded king of 
the Island who had stolen the wine (the poetry) "where should they 
find this grand liquor that hath gilded them" and whose name is 
Stephanos (Greek for crown) throws off at the close of the play, his 
false crown while Caliban says "What a thrice double ass was I to 
take this drunkard for a God." ' 

It is, however, to Love's Labour's Lost that we must look for 
irrefutable evidence that Bacon is Shakespeare. The Quarto (1598) 
of Love's Labour's Lost is obviously of the highest importance as it is 
the first play to be published with the name of Shakespeare on the 
title-page. As soon, therefore, as Bacon had attached his pseudonym 
to the play, he wrote, or 'caused to be issued a book attributed to 
Francis Meres which is called "Palladis Tamia, Wit's Treasury" ', 
which distinctly told the world that eleven other plays had been 
written, though published anonymously, by the same author. And to 
make sure that posterity should be in no doubt as to his authorship of 
Love's Labour's Lost and the preceding plays Bacon had been careful 
^ to insert in the Quarto the all-revealing clue. This is the word 
honorificabilitudinitatibus.! jfrom whose twenty-seven letters can be 
fofiSed Tire Jbaiin hexameter, 'Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi', 
meaning, 'These plays, F. Bacon's offspring, are preserved for the 

This explanation of the real meaning to be derived from the long 
word honor! ficabilitudinitatibus seems to be so convincing as scarcely 


to require further proof; but the clue did not entirely satisfy Bacon. 
'He therefore so arranged the plays and the acts of the plays in the 
folio of 1623 that the long word should appear upon the 136* page, 
be the I5ist word thereon, should fall on the 2yth line, and that the 
interpretation should indicate the numbers 136 and 151, thus forming 
a mechanical proof so positive that it can neither be misconstrued nor 
explained away, a mechanical proof that provides an evidence which 
absolutely compels belief.' This meant some rearrangement of the 
lines of the text, for owing to a curious blunder in the printing of the 
Quarto the word appeared in the 25th line; but Bacon did not allow 
the mistake to happen twice, and we can well understand Sir Edwin's 
claim that the Folio is the most carefully edited and printed book in 
the world, for it meant that Bacon had so to arrange the preceding 
plays that the 1 3&th page should begin with the first word of the 
revealing page of the Quarto. 

The word honorificabilitudinitatibus, therefore, has a further 
significance: not only does it reveal Bacon's authorship of the plays, 
it also reveals where we are to find it the i5ist word (of course 
counting only those in ordinary type), on the I3oth page of the Folio, 
though why the word itself should give the clue to its own where- 
abouts is not quite clear. Of course we can tell that the word is on 
the 27th line that half of it is in fact on the 28th is unimportant 
because there are 27 letters in the word. And the rest of the proof 
is equally simple. *Bacon tells us that there are 24 letters in the 
alphabet (/' and j being deemed to be forms of the same letter, as are 
also u and v). Bacon was himself accustomed frequently to use the 
letters of the alphabet as numerals. Thus A is I, B is 2 ... Y is 23, 
Z is 24. Let us take as an example Bacon's own name B=2, 
a=i, c=3, 0=14, n=i3; all these added together make the 
number 33, a number about which it is possible to say a good deal.* 
In the same way, if we give each letter of the revealing word its 
numerical value, we find that the sum of the 27 numbers is 287. 
Now consider the^l revealing sentence formed from the same 27 
letters, 'Hi ludi F. Baconis nati tuiti orbi', and it will be found that 
the total is the same. Not only this, the sum of the first and last letters 
of the words is 136, whi'e that of the intermediate letters is 151. 
Add 136 to 151 and the answer is 287, the identical value of the 
same 27 letters when arranged in the order of the word. This quite 
clearly tells us that the revealing word occurs on page 1 36 and is the 
1 5 ist word the italic words being of course omitted. After this 
most readers will agree that 'it is not possible to afford a clearer 
mechanical proof that the Shakespeare plays are Bacon's offspring. 


It is not possible to make a clearer and more definite statement that 
Bacon is the author of the plays.' 

And though 'it is not possible that any doubt can any longer be 
entertained respecting the manifest fact that Bacon is Shakespeare', 
there are other proofs for those who want them, for the whole of 
page 136 of the Folio is cryptographic. For instance, on line 33 we 
read 'What is Ab speld backward with the horn on his head?' The 
answer *Ba, with a home added', is evidently incorrect, and should of 
course have been in Latin. The Latin for horn being cornu, the real 
answer is *Ba corn-u fool'. This is the exact answer we should expect 
to find on line 33, for as we have seen, the number 33 indicates 
Bacon's name. But Francis Bacon had a brother Anthony, therefore 
a few lines further down the page we read, 'Qw/V, quis, thou Con- 
sonant?' 'Quis, quis?' means 'Who, who?' or 'Which Bacon do you 
mean?' and it is equally clear from the ensuing dialogue that the 
answer to 'Quis, quis?' is the vowels a, e, i, o, u. Now, as a key to 
the Folio, Bacon wrote, or had a hand in the production of, a great 
Cryptographic book, Cryptomenytices, which was published in 1624 
under the name of 'Gustavus Selenus, The Man in the Moon'. We 
know that the numerical value of Bacon's surname is 33 j 1 if we wish 
to find his Christian name, therefore, we must deduct 33 from 287 
and the answer should give us a clue. And sure enough, if we turn 
to page 254 in the great Cryptographic book we find a 'Square Table' 
which supplies the key to the meaning of the vowels a, e, i, o, u. 
The answer is as we should expect, Fra. short for Francis. So that 
page 136 of the Folio reveals not only that F. Bacon wrote the plays, 
but more exactly that it was Fra. Bacon who was the author. 

In case posterity should be too slow-witted to identify and interpret 
the clues that he scattered so lavishly on page 1 36 of the Folio, Bacon 
attracted its attention to other references by the simple device of 
printing ornaments and illustrations upside down. For example, in 
Camden's Remains, 1616 (in which we may be sure that Bacon had 
a hand), the head-ornament to the chapter on Surnames is inverted, 
and there, as was to be expected, is a reference first, to the mysterious 
village of Bacon Creping, and a few pages later to 'such names as 
Shakespeare, Shotbolt, Wagstaffe'. The significance of these refer- 
ences will be appreciated if we examine one of the visual proofs of 

1 In a fascinating footnote Sir Edwin comments: 'The number 33 too obviously repre- 
sented Bacon, and therefore 53 which spells sow (S 18, O 14, W 21=53) was substituted for 
33. Scores of examples can be found where on page 53 some reference is made to Bacon in 
books published under various names. In many cases page 55 is misprinted as 53. In the 
Shakespeare Folio 1623 on the first page 53 we read "Hang Hog is latten for Bacon", and on 
the second page 53 we find "Gammon of Bacon". ... A whole book could be filled wi^h 
similar instances/ 


Bacon's authorship, the illustrations on the title-page of the great 
Cryptographic book already referred to. There, to the left, is a man, 
'evidently Bacon, giving his writing to a Spearman who is dressed in 
actor's boots. . . . This man is a Shake-Spear, nay he really is a 
correct portrait of the Stratford house-holder, which you will readily 
perceive if you turn to Dugdale's engraving of the Shakespeare bust. 
In the middle distance the man still holding a spear, still being a Shake- 
Spear, walks with a staff: he is therefore a Wagstaffe. On his back 
are books the books of the plays. In the sky is seen an arrow, no, 
it is not sufficiently long for an arrow, it is a Shotbolt. This Shotbolt 
is near to a bird which seems about to give to it the scroll it carries in 
its beak. But is it a real bird? No, it has no real claws, its feet are 
Jove's lightnings, verily, "it is the Eagle of great verse' 1 .' In the 
right-hand picture the same man is seen 'riding on a courser. But he is 
no longer a Shake-spear, he is a Shake-spur', the spur being the one 
prominent thing in the whole picture. The illustration at the bottom 
of the page 'within the four square corners of fact' shows Bacon 
writing his book while an overdressed and masked Actor lifts a 'Cap 
of Maintenance' from the real writer's head. Finally, the engraving 
at the top represents a storm and beacon lights but, 'no, it represents 
The Tempest of Shakespeare and tells you that the play is filled with 
Bacon lights'. In short, 'the whole title page clearly shows that it 
is drawn to give a revelation about Shakespeare, who might just as 
well have borne the name Shotbolt or of Wagstaffe or of Shakespur, 
see The Tempest', 

The strong bass'd promontorie 

Have I made shake, and by the spurs pluckt up.' 

There are other revealing title-pages showing a spear and an actor 
wearing only one spur, not quite so informative as this one perhaps, 
but there is the 'specially revealing' title-page to the first volume of 
Bacon's collected works, printed abroad in Latin. Here Bacon is 
pointing with his right hand to his open book in full light, and with 
his left in shadow is pushing forward a figure holding a clasped book 
which by the cross lines on its side (the accepted symbol of a mirror) 
shows that it represents the mirror up to Nature, i.e. Shakespeare's 
plays. 'The reader will now be able to fully realise the revelation 
contained in Droeshout's masked figure with its two left arms,' 
reproduced in the First Folio. 

And now at last after this accumulation of evidence the reader is 
also in a position to fully realise what exactly were the relations 
between Bacon and Shakespeare. A man in the exalted station of 


Bacon could not afford to take the risk of publishing his poems and 
plays under his own name, so he adopted the pen-name of Shake- 
speare (which might just as well have been Shotbolt or Wagstaffe), 
under which he published Venus and Adonis and Lucrece. To safe- 
guard himself he looked round for somebody on whom he might 
father his work, and found 'a grasping money-lending man, of little 
or no repute, that bore a name called Shaxpur, which might be 
twisted into Bacon's pen-name Shakespeare'. The relationship must 
have begun as early as 1594 when The Taming of a Shrew was 
printed, for of course the drunken tinker Christopher Sly is Shake- 
speare, and the Hostess is Bacon. 1 Matters were brought to a head 
in 1598 when Bacon published Love's Labour's Lost in the name of 
Shakespeare, issued Mere's Palladis Tamia^ explaining that he was 
also the author of eleven other plays, and allowed the fourth reprint 
of the dangerous Richard II to bear his pseudonym. The actor 
Shakespeare had to be made secure. 

An actor of repute would probably have refused even a large bribe; 
not so the Stratford man, who was prepared to allow his name to be 
put to the plays and to leave London for the obscurity of the provinces 
in return for a handsome house in Stratford (Bacon bought New 
Place for him in 1597), a g rant of arms, and the gift 'so singular in 
its magnificence' of a thousand pounds, which, though attributed by 
Rowe to Southampton's generosity, must really have come from 
Bacon. And there at Stratford the boorish actor lived unhonoured 
of his fellows, battening on the bribes he received as the wonderful 
series of plays flowed from Bacon's pen, and on the ill-gotten proceeds 
of his local litigation, until he died from drink in 1616. Though 
Bacon survived another ten years he wrote no more plays. 

'Men of great intelligence in other matters', concludes the author 
of this remarkable book, 'seem when the life of Shakespeare of Strat- 
ford-on-Avon is concerned, quite prepared to refuse to exercise either 
judgment or common sense, and to swallow without question any 
amount of preposterous nonsense.' How otherwise can they believe 
Rowe's statement that Shakespeare was a competent actor, and that 
'the top of his performance was the Ghost of his own Hamlet'? The 
answer is of course that the part requires absolutely no histrionic 
ability, for no one sees who plays it, and no one knows or cares. But 
there must be some meaning behind this persistent fable. 'As usual, 
the Bacon key at once solves the riddle. The moment we realise that 
Bacon is Hamlet, we perceive that the purpose of the rumour is to 

1 The author seems to have made an error here. 'The Taming of a Shrew* was not Shake- 
speare's play, but one of the sources of 'The Taming of the Shrew/ published for the first 
time in the first Folio. 


reveal to us the fact that the highest point to which the actor Shake- 
speare, of Stratford-on-Avon, attained was to play the part of Ghost 
to Bacon, that is to act as his "Pseudonym", or in other words, the 
object of the story is to reveal to us the fact that Bacon is Shake- 
speare/ 1 

1 Logan Pearsall Smith in his On Reading Shakespeare remarks in a beautiful footnote, 
with which the present writer would like to associate himself: 'I do not wish, however, to 
speak with any disrespect of that view of the authorship of Shakespeare's plays which is so 
firmly held by officers in the Navy and the Army, by one of his Majesty's judges, and the 
manager of more than one large drapery establishment, and is corroborated by the authority 
of Mark Twain, Mrs. Henry Pott, Prince Bismarck, John Bright, the late Mr. Crump, K.C., 
and several thoughtful baronets'. 


But when a poet is a great poet as Shakespeare is, we cannot 
judge of his greatness unaided; we need both the opinions 
of other poets, and the diverse views of critics who were not 
poets, in order to help us to understand. 




IT was almost exactly two hundred years after Shakespeare's death 
that Coleridge, in 1818, delivered his Lectures on Shakespeare. 
In the course of those two centuries, before Shakespearean criticism 
had become almost an international industry, 1 five great critics, each 
of whom may be said to have represented the educated opinion of his 
age, an opinion for whose education he was himself no doubt largely 
responsible, pronounced their judgements at fairly regular intervals 
of fifty years. Ben Jonson wrote his verses 'to the memory of my 
beloved, the author Mr. William Shakespeare', for the Folio of 1623; 
Dryden's Essay of Dramatic Poesy was published in 1668; Pope's 
Preface to Shakespeare's Works appeared in 1725; Johnson's Preface 
in 1765; and Coleridge's Lectures were delivered in 1818. We have, 
therefore, a representative of Shakespeare's contemporaries, of the 
Restoration, of the Augustan Age, of the later Age of Reason, and 
of the Romantic Movement and all were poets as well as critics, 
and some were dramatists as well to explain to us the peculiar impact 
of Shakespeare on their own age. 

When Shakespeare died there were no daily or even weekly news- 
papers to publish the fact and to supply an obituary, and even if there 
had been it is more than probable that the death in the provinces of 
a retired actor and writer of plays which could scarcely be considered 
as serious literature would have passed unnoticed. It remained for 
Hemingp, and Condeil, Shakespeare's fellow-actors and friends, to 
collect anJ publish in one volume, the Folio of 1623, all Shake- 
speare's plays, and to recommend them to 'the great variety of reader s\ 
that is as literature to be studied, plays with a claim to something more 
than the ephemeral notoriety of a stage performance. 'Read him, 
therefore; and again, and again. And if then you do not like him, 
surely you are in some manifest danger, not to understand him.' 

No doubt Heminge and Condeil, being financially involved in the 
venture, were not entirely disinterested, and perhaps even the sturdily 
independent and forthright Ben Jonson was sufficiently prejudiced by 
his friendship and a possible payment for his services just a little to 

1 In Mr. Augustus Ralti's History of Shakespearian Criticism, 158 pages suffice for the period 
between the First Folio and Coleridge. The succeeding century, 1818-1925, needs almost 
i ,000 more. 


suspend his critical faculties when he wrote his verses 'to his beloved 
the author and what he hath left us' and claimed that Shakespeare 
wasjiot of an age, but for all time, that not only was he the wonder 
of our stage but, in spite of his small Latin and less Greek, was the 
equal of all that insolent Greece and haughty Rome sent forth. 
Certainly he was more severe when in his Discoveries he wrote, after 
protesting that he loved the man and honoured his memory this side 
idolatry, that 'his wit was in his own power; would the rule of it had 
been so too'. He also told Drummond of Hawthornden that 'Shake- 
speare wanted art', and whatever he may have meant by that, through 
the criticism of the next two hundred years there runs, with varying 
degrees of emphasis, the theme that Shakespeare with his small Latin 
and less Greek was a wild and irregular genius for whose faults and 
excesses it was necessary to apologise, and whose plays needed polish- 
ing, refining, and trimming before they could be produced upon the 
stage. It was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that 
Schlegel and Coleridge independently refuted this nonsense and main- 
tained that 'the judgment of Shakespeare is commensurate with his 
genius'. Ben Jonson and the rest of Shakespeare's contemporaries 
were inevitably too close to their subject to see it in perspective and 
correct focus, but there is no doubt that they recognised Shakespeare's 
genius, and they bore generous witness to his popularity, though until 
the end of the seventeenth century Shakespeare had to share the 
laurels with Beaumont and Fletcher. 1 

Dryden was sufficiently far removed in time to take a wider view 
of Shakespeare's works, but a view not yet obscured by the mists and 
fogs of former criticism; he was near enough to be in a simple and 
unperplexed relationship with his subject, not only through the text 
of the Folios but also through the stage performances of the King's 
and the Duke's companies, the former of which, composed of older 
men, must have carried into the Restoration theatre, with its inno- 
vations of scenery and women actors, much of the Shakespearean 
tradition. Dryden was a very great critic, and generous in his judg- 
ments: 'Shakespeare was the man who of all modern, and perhaps 
ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul.' For 
Dryden he was 'the divine Shakespeare, the father of our dramatic 
poets', and yet, as was only to be expected of one 'untaught, unprac- 
tis r d in a barbarous Age', he had his faults, and 'the fury of his fancy 
often transported him beyond the bounds of judgment'. It was the 
dramatist and the philosopher in Shakespeare that so captivated 
Dryden, and he was deaf to much of the poetry. Living 'in an age 

1 The Duchess of Newcastle had no doubts. See her remarkable panegyric on p. 277. 


which is more refined' 1 he mistook sublimity for extravagance, 
vehemence for roaring madness, and sense for a sound of words; and 
he honestly believed that just as Chaucer was a rough diamond that 
must first be polished ere he shines, 2 so Shakespeare's characters 
would be improved by speaking the elegant language of the Restora- 
tion, his thoughts would be given their true lustre by adding some- 
what of his own where his author was deficient, and a slight read- 
justment of the plays, the omission of a scene here to get rid of the 
barbarians, the addition of a character there Caliban must have a 
sister and Ariel 'a gentle spirit for his love' to improve the symmetry, 
was all in the true interests of Shakespeare who wanted words in the 
beginning of our language. 

It may be as well here to digress for a moment and consider the 
Poetics of Aristotle and the Neo- Classicism based upon it, without a 
knowledge of which much of the criticism of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries is scarcely intelligible. 

The Poetics is the incomplete notes of a student who attended a 
course of lectures given by Aristotle at Athens some time before his 
death in 322 B.C. It is a discourse 'of Poetry in itself and of its various 
kinds', but it treats most fully of Tragedy; and here it is important 
to remember that Aristotle's induction was inevitably based on Greek 
tragedy alone, the only model he had, and there is no reason to doubt 
that 4 if he had seen ours he might have changed his mind'. 

His famous definition of tragedy runs as follows: 

Tragedy is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of 
a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic 
ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; 
in the form of action, not of narrative; through pity and fear effecting 
the proper purgation of these emotions. 8 

He then goes on to elaborate his definition, the following points for 
our purpose being the most important: 

1 Lamb thought differently: 'Much has been said, and deservedly, in reprobation of the 
vile mixture which Dryden has thrown into the Tempest. Doubtless without some such 
vicious alloy, the impure ears of that age would never have sate out to hear so much innocence 
of love as is. contained in the sweet courtship of Ferdinand and Miranda.' 

8 Compare Chaucer, 'The smyler with the knyf under the cloke', with Dryden's 'trans- 

Next stood Hypocrisy, with holy leer, 
Soft smiling, and demurely looking down, 
But hid the dagger underneath the gown. 
1 Trans. S. H. Butcher. 


The Plot is the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy: 
Character holds the second place. 

Third in order is Thought. 

Fourth among the elements enumerated comes Diction. 

Of the remaining elements Song holds the chief place among the 

The Spectacle has, indeed, an emotional attraction of its own, but, 
of all the parts, it is the least artistic, and connected least with the art 
of poetry. 

Having established these principles he goes on to discuss the proper 
structure of the Plot, 'since this is the first and most important thing 
in Tragedy': 

According to our definition, Tragedy is an imitation of an action that 
is complete, and whole, and of a certain magnitude; for there may be 
a whole that is wanting in magnitude. . . . And to define the matter 
roughly, we may say that the proper magnitude is comprised within 
such limits, that the sequence of events, according to the law of proba- 
bility or necessity, will admit of a change from bad fortune to good, or 
from good fortune to bad. . . . (This suggestion is Aristotle's only 
reference to the so-called 'Unity of Time'.) 

As therefore, in the other imitative arts, the imitation is one when 
the object jmitated is one, so the plot, being an imitation of an action, 
must imitate one action and that a whole, the structural union of the 
parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the 
whole will be disjointed and disturbed. For a thing whose presence or 
absence makes no visible difference, is not an organic part of the whole. 
('Unity of Action.') 

After discussing the Simple and Complex Plot: the first when a 
change of fortune takes place without, the second with, Reversal of 
the Situation or Recognition or both, he turns to consider the Tragic 
Hero, *a jrnan who is not eminently good and just^ yet whose, mis- 
fortunels brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error 
or frailty, and he must be one who i. highly renowned and prosperous', 
and then he sums up the position as far as he has gone: 

A well constructed plot should, therefore, be single in its issue, rather 
than double as some maintain. The change of fortune should be not 
from bad to good, but, reversely, from good to bad. It should come 
about as the result not of vice, but of some great error or frailty, in a 
character either such as we have described, or better rather than worse. 

The first thing to be noticed is his emphasis on the primary im- 
portance of the plot, and the subordinate position of character. Then 


it will be observed that the only Unity that Aristotle insists on, if 
'insist' be not too strong a word, is that of Action. By this 'rule' King 
Lear would be condemned for its double plot, and so presumably 
would Hamlet for its irrelevant comedy. All that he says with refer- 
ence to the Unity of Time is to suggest that 'roughly' the time 
supposed to elapse in the play should allow of a change of fortune 
from good to bad: not too long and not too short, but of 'a proper 
magnitude'. Of the Unity of Place that there should be no change 
of scene he says nothing. 

The Poetics was unknown in Europe during the Dark and Middle 
Ages, and was only rediscovered at the time of the Renaissance, about 
1500, but it was not long before Italian scholars with their worship 
and imitation of 'the ancients' seized on it and transformed it into 
rules, much as, at the same period, Palladio reduced architecture to 
prescribed forms based on those of Vitruvius, and so stifled the living 
flame of the Renaissance. So we find Castelvetro writing in 1570 
and this was the orthodox doctrine: 

But it is evident that, in tragedy and comedy, the plot contains one 
action only, or two that by their interdependence can be considered 
one . . . not because the fable itself is unsuited to contain more actions 
than one, but because the space of time, of twelve hours at most, in 
which the action is represented, and the strait limits of the place in 
which it is represented likewise, do not permit a multitude of actions. 

Twelve hours at most! And the strait limits of the place! Wherever 
he got that, it was certainly not from Aristotle. And then it will be 
noticed that instead of emphasising Aristotle's one Unity of Action 
he makes it dependent on the newfangled Unities of Time and 
Place, the former of which Aristotle had scarcely mentioned, and the 
latter not at all. 

In the seventeenth century this 'Neo-Classic' creed passed into 
France where Boileau, Rapin, and Le Bossu codified it into its most 
preposterously rigid form, the cult of Rules and Reason. 'Love 
Reason', wrote Boileau in UArt Poetique in 1669. 'Too many, 
carried away by insensate excitement, fetch their thoughts far from 
plain sense: they would think themselves degraded if, in their mon- 
strous verses, they gave a thought which another had given before 
them.' And Rapin: 

I make no pretence of justifying the necessity, justice, and truth of 
these rules of Aristotle. I take all that for granted. I only say that, if 
you consider them all, you will find that they are merely made to 
methodise Nature, to follow her step by step. If there is not unity of 


place, time, and action, in poems, there is no verisimilitude. The 
Poetics of Horace, which is merely an interpretation of that of Aristotle, 
sufficiently shows the necessity of subjecting oneself to rules. 

It was according to these rules that French Classical drama was 
constructed, and so the opinion of Voltaire and the other French 
critics that Shakespeare was a barbarian becomes comprehensible. 

In England Neo-Classicism had its effect, but it never established 
itself comfortablyamong a people given to commonsense and com- 
promise. Yet Sir Philip Sidney, of all men, in his Apology for Poetry 
(1581) felt compelled to write: 

Our Tragedies, and Comedies (not without cause cried out against), 
observing rules neither of honest civility nor of skilful Poetry, excepting 
Gorboduc (again, I say, of those that I have seen), which notwithstand- 
ing, as it is full of stately speeches and well sounding Phrases, climbing 
to the height of Seneca his style, and as full of notable morality, which 
it doth most delightfully teach, and so obtain the very end of Poesy; 
yet in truth it is very defectious in the circumstances: which grieveth 
me, because it might not remain as an exact model of all Tragedies. 
For it is faulty both in Place and Time, the two necessary companions 
of all corporal actions. For where the stage should always represent but 
one place, and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by 
Aristotle's precept and common reason, but one day: there is both many 
days, and many places, inartificially imagined. 

Sir Philip Sidney had been reading his Scaliger and Castelvetro. And 
presumably the learned Ben Jonson when he complained that Shake- 
speare 'wanted art' meant that he had neglected, either through 
ignorance or perversity, the 'rules' of Aristotle who 'was the first 
accurate critic and truest judge the world ever had'. 

Thomas Rymer, at the end of the seventeenth century, when Neo- 
Classicism had been remade by the French 'into a kind of critical 
shoddy', was the most hide-bound of the English school; he ridicules 
the way in which 'Fancy leaps and frisks, and away she's^gone; while 
Reason rattles the chain, and follows after', and not only the English 
'Stage-quacks and Empirics in poetry', but also 'the eternal triflings 
of French Grammaticasters' themselves. 

Dryden, Pope, and Johnson respected the Ancients, Reason, and 
the Rules, though they interpreted them much more liberally than 
the French, and it was against this Classical restraint that the Romantic 
writers and painters and musicians so violently revolted at the 
beginning of the nineteenth century. 


Dryden had little sympathy with the pedants who condemned 
Shakespeare because he was either ignorant of or ignored the Poetics 
of Aristotle, and who thought that English drama should imitate the 
classical drama of the French, of Corneille, Moliere, and Racine: 
'By their servile observations of the unities of time and place, and the 
integrity of scenes, they have brought on themselves that dearth of 
plot, and narrowness of imagination, which may be observed in all 
their plays. How many beautiful accidents might naturally happen in 
two or three days, which cannot arrive within any probability in the 
compass of twenty- four hours.' 

Still less could he agree with Rymer, according to Macaulay 'the 
worst critic who ever lived', and certainly one of the most reactionary. 
In 1678 Rymer published a small volume called The Tragedies of the 
last Age Considered and Examined by the Practice of the Ancients^ and 
by the Common Sense of all Ages^ in which he maintained that 'had our 
Authors begun with Tragedy, as Sophocles and Euripides left it; had 
they either built on the same foundation, or after their model; we 
might ere this day have seen Poetry in greater perfection, and boasted 
such Monuments of wit as Greece or Rome never knew in all their 
glory'. In 1693 ne followed this up with his Short View of Tragedy 
in which he ridiculed Othello^ 'The Tragedy of the Handkerchief, a 
play in which there is 'some burlesk, some humour, and ramble of 
Comical Wit, some shew, and some Mimickry to divert the spectators: 
but the tragical part is plainly none other than a Bloody Farce, 
without salt or savour'. It is a characteristic of the English that, like 
the climate and the scenery of their country, they rarely run to 
extremes, whether in religion or politics or art or in anything else: 
we are not a violent people, our religious settlement was a compromise, 
our Revolution a bloodless one, and we have avoided on the one hand 
the excesses of Sturm und Drang and the over-exuberance of Baroque, 
on the other the sterile formulas of Vignola and of the Senecan 
tradition. Rymer, therefore, was a lonely figure, and Dryden with 
his good sense dismissed him with: 'It is not enough that Aristotle 
has said so, for Aristotle drew his models of tragedy from Sophocles 
and Euripides: and, if he had seen ours, might have changed his 

It would not be true, however, to suggest that Dryden was alto- 
gether uninfluenced by French models. He was inconsistent, at one 
time favouring blank verse, at another rhyme; now conforming to 
the French 'rules', then ignoring them altogether. So it was that he 
and D'Avenant and others forced many of Shakespeare's plays 
Measure for Measure^ Macbeth^ Troilus and Cressida^ The Tempest^ 
Antony and Cleopatra into the severe and symmetrical moulds of 



classical drama; and incidentally they added a spicier* love-interest 
than that contained in Shakespeare's plays, the heroines of which were 
originally acted by boys, an interest essential to success at the Court 
of Charles 1 1. 

For it must be remembered that the audience of Restoration times 
was very small and confined almost entirely to Court circles, to which 
Betterton and other famous actors might almost be said to belong, the 
Puritan middle classes shunning the theatre as something dangerously 
licentious, as indeed it often was. Until 1682 there were only two 
theatres in London, one of them Drury Lane, while from 1682 to 
1695 the second Drury Lane, built by Wren, was the only theatre 
in the town. 1 These theatres were modifications of the Elizabethan 
'private' theatre such as the Blackfriars, the winter quarters of Shake- 
speare's company, roofed in, artificially lit, with painted side wings, 
and shutters or flats that could be run together to give a change of 
scene. The inner stage had been enlarged and withdrawn inside a 
proscenium arch, and though there was still an apron stage on which 
the actor could be seen in the round, and could audibly declaim the 
poetry of Shakespeare and the verse of Dryden, by the beginning of 
the nineteenth century the apron stage was little more than vestigial, 
having inevitably for financial reasons been sacrificed to make more 
room for the pit^ while the inner stage was becoming a framed and 
glamorous cavern into the recesses of which the actors could with 
impunity retire and mutter inaudibly, and often invisibly, the poetry 
of Shakespeare or the verse of Dryden, it scarcely mattered which. 

Dryden was a dramatist as well as a critic, so that his Shakespearean 
criticism was in a special sense dramatic; but with the eighteenth 
century Dryden died in 1700 came a change, and criticism 
became literary rather than dramatic. The adaptations of Dryden, 
D'Avenant, Ravenscroft, Otway, Tate, and Cibber held the stage, 

1 In 1660 Charles II issued patents to D'Avenant and Thomas Killigrew, which officially 
established two major theatres until 1843 when the monopolies lapsed. D'Avenant asked for 
and was given the exclusive right to produce, 'reform', and 'make fit* certain of Shakespeare's 
plays, including Hamlet and The Tempest, and KiUigrew's company were later granted 
twenty of the plays. 

D'Avenant formed the Duke of Yorke's Company which acted first at Lincoln's Inn 
Fields, then in 1672 at Dorset Garden. In 1663 Killigrew with the King's Company moved 
from their theatre in Vere Street to the First Dury Lane, which was burned down in 1672 
and rebuilt by Wren in 1674. From 1682 to 1695 the two companies amalgamated and acted 
at Drury Lane, Betterton seceding to Lincoln's Inn Fields in the latter year. 

When Covent Garden theatre was built in 1732 it and Drury Lane were the two patent 
theatres. By the Licensing Act of 1737 all other theatres should have been closed, but they 
managed to evade the law. The Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, built by Vanbrugh in 
1705, became the centre for opera. Both Covent Garden and Drury Lane were burned down 
in the winter of 1808-9 and rebuilt to hold about 3,000 spectators. In 1843 they lost their 


but the criticism was of the plays as written by Shakespeare and printed 
in the Folios the Fourth and last Folio was published in 1685. 
This was partly the result of the new interest in textual criticism 
and Shakespearean scholarship. In 1709 Nicholas Rowe, another 
dramatist, published his octavo edition of Shakespeare's plays, based 
mainly on the 1685 Folio but with an immensely improved text, and 
prefixed by the first formal life of Shakespeare. After this came the 
editions of Pope (1725), Theobald (1733), Hanmer (1744), War- 
burton (1747), and Johnson (1765). Then came the epoch-making 
editions of Capell in 1768 and of Steevens in 1773: epoch-making 
because their texts were based no longer mainly on the Folios, but 
only after careful collation with the Quartos, the serious study of 
which they inaugurated. 

It was in this atmosphere of scholarship that Pope produced his 
edition of Shakespeare in 1725; the text was printed from Rowe's, 
but so arbitrarily altered according to Pope's personal preferences that 
Theobald, the first really serious Shakespearean scholar, had little 
difficulty in exposing its shortcomings in his Shakespeare Restored^ or 
a Specimen of the many Errors as well committed as unamended by Mr. 
Pope in his late Edition of this Poet. There is nothing very original 
in Pope's Preface^ which is interesting partly because it was written 
by Pope, partly because it so ably embodies the accepted opinion of 
Shakespeare's plays during the greater part of the eighteenth century. 
His method is conventional: 'I cannot however but mention some of 
his principal and characteristic excellencies, for which (notwith- 
standing his defects) .he is justly and universally elevated above all 
other dramatic writers. 1 Then comes a tribute to his originality, to 
his charactersjvhich 'are sqjmuh_ Nature herself, that 'tis a sort of 
injury to call them by so distant a name as copies of her', to his power 
over our passions, and to his sentiments, followed by an apology for 
his defects, 'for as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps 
written worse than any other'. Some of these defects, 'a wrong choice 
of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, false thoughts, forc'd 
expressions, &c.', were not entirely his own, but rather those of the 
illiterate audience for whom he had to write, while others might 
more properly be called 'Superfoetations: and arise not from want of 
learning or reading, but from want of thinking or judging'. There 
is no attempt at detailed criticism, no analysis of the poetry, of 
character, or of a single playj it is all very general, and a variation on 
the theme of, and an aoplogy for, the wild irregular genius who with 
his small Latin and less Greek wanted art and judgment. 

This theme was developed in its most emphatic form by the French 
critics of the eighteenth century, notably by Voltaire, La Harpe, and 


Diderot. Racine, always fine, was their man, while Shakespeare's 
genius flashed fitfully like lightning in a weary night. It is the wild 
irregular genius once more: a barbarian, sometimes even a drunken 
barbarian, savagely splendid in spite of his vulgarity and want of art, 
his extravagances and wild improbabilities. 'II avait un gnie plein 
de force et de fecondit, de naturel et de sublime, sans la moindre 
6tincelle de bon goflt et sans la moindre connaissance des regies.' And 
as for Hamlet, Vest une piece grossiere et barbare, qui ne serait pas 
support^e par la plus vile populace de la France et de 1'Italie. On 
croirait que cet ouvrage est le fruit de 1'imagination d'un sauvage 
ivre'. It is difficult for the Englishman not brought up and steeped 
in the tradition of classical French tragedy, its simplicity, restraint, 
and formal symmetry, to understand these French critics who pre- 
ferred Addison's Cato to Shakespeare's Hamlet and Othello. 1 

Voltaire was given the English answer by Johnson in the Preface 
to his edition of Shakespeare, 1765. 'Voltaire expresses his wonder, 
that our author's extravagances are endured by a nation, which has 
seen the tragedy of Cato. Let him be answered, that Addison speaks 
the language of poets, and Shakespeare of men. We find in Cato 
innumerable beauties which enamour us of its author, but we see 
nothing that acquaints us with human sentiments or human actions; 
we place it with the fairest and the noblest progeny which judgment 
propagates by conjunction with learning, but Othello is the vigorous 
and vivacious offspring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato 
affords a splendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious manners, and 
delivers just and noble sentiments, in diction easy, elavated and 
harmonious, but its hopes and fears communicate no vibration to the 
heart; the composition refers^ us only to the writer; we pronounce 
the name of Cato, but we think on Addison.' Such words, his simple 
and generous preference for genius and humanity to judgment, 
learning, and abstractions more than redeem his occasional insensi- 
bility to Shakespeare's poetry. We can always be sure of Johnson in 
this sense: that he meant what he said, and said what he meant, and 
it has been given to few men to say it so forcibly. Though he may 
often be wrong he is always sincere, and there is never anything 
perfunctory about his judgments. 

With sturdy common sense Johnson defends Shakespeare's practice, 
censured by Voltaire, of mixing comic and tragic scenes: 'That this 
is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will be readily allowed; 
but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end 
of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. 

1 But see Lytton Strachey's admirable defence of the French point of view on p. 328. 


That the mingled drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or 
comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alternations of 
exhibition, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life.' 

It may be admitted that Johnson, like Pope, has nothing very 
original to say in his Preface". Shakespeare was a genius, but not so 
wild and irregular as he is often made out to be certainly not so 
wild and irregular as those Frenchmen would like to think him; but 
he has his faults: he sacrifices virtue to convenience, his plots are often 
loosely formed, in comedy he is often gross, in tragedy tumid, in 
narrative tedious, while 'a quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for 
which he lost the world, and was content to lose it', and so on. He 
seems almost unaware that Shakespeare was a poet, and sometimes he 
is so perplexingly wrong as to appear almost wrong-headed though 
that, when he writes, he never is: 'In tragedy Shakespeare often 
writes, with great appearance of toil and study, what is written at last 
with little felicity; but, in his comic scenes, he seems to produce, 
without labour, what no labour can improve. ... In his tragic 
scenes there is always something wanting, but his comedy often sur- 
passes expectation or desire.' 

Johnson's Preface is remarkable not so much for what it says as for 
what it is, the judicial summing up of the opinion of a century; it is 
the impartial estimate of Shakespeare's virtues and defects by a power- 
ful mind anxious not to let his prejudices prevent the defects as he 
saw them from weighing too lightly in the balance. It is the final 
verdict of an epoch. 

It was this judicial attitude that Hazlitt interpreted as indifference 
and which so infuriated him: 'We may sometimes, in order "to do a 
great right, do a little wrong". An overstrained enthusiasm is more 
pardonable with respect to Shakespear than the want of it; for our 
admiration cannot easily surpass his genius. . . . Dr. Johnson's 
Preface looks like a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic merits 
of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh 
his excellences and defects in equal scales, stuffed full of "swelling 
figures and sonorous epithets".' And yet we cannot help thinking 
Mr. T. S. Eliot nearer the truth when he says, quoting the fifth 
paragraph of the Preface: 'One would willingly resign the honour of 
an Abbey burial for the greater honour of words like the following 
from a man of the greatness of their author. . . . What a valedictory 
and obituary for any man to receive! My point is that if you assume 
that the classical criticism of England was grudging in its praise of 
Shakespeare, I say that no poet can ask more of posterity than to be 
greatly honoured by the great; and Johnson's words about Shake- 
speare are great honour.' (Cf. p. 287.) 


Johnson's uniinpassioned estimate is the final summing up of the 
classical Shakespearean criticism of the hundred years that lie between 
the Restoration and the accession of George III Dryden's Essay of 
Dramatic Poesy was published in 1668, Johnson's Preface in 1765. 
It is the verdict of the Age of Reason, of an age that willingly accepted 
the restrictions of 'rules' lest too great a freedom should lead to those 
mysterious and incomprehensible regions 

Of calling shapes, and beck'ning shadows dire, 
And airy tongues that syllable men's names 
On sands, and shores, and desert wildernesses. 

Enthusiasm and curiosity were in chains, and minute discrimination 
was rejected in favour of the broader and safer generalisation. 'The 
business of the poet', said Imlac, 'is to examine, not the individual 
but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances. 
He does not number the streaks of the tulip.' 1 We do not look to 
Johnson, therefore, for any analysis of Shakespeare's characters 
though he has a good note on Polonius and draws a moral from 
Falstaff. 'Nothing can please many, and please long, but just repre- 
sentations of general nature', and he claims it for the first of Shake- 
speare's virtues that his characters, unlike those of other writers, are 
not individuals but representatives of a species. 2 Nor do we look to 
Johnson for an appreciation of Shakespeare's poetry, the music and 
mystery of which lay beyond the reach of his common sense. But 
even in English criticism of the period there are signs of the impending 
change, an Ariel-like impatience of the imagination to be free, a mild 
symptom of the mighty forces that were soon to find expression in 
the Sturm and Drang of Germany and the Revolution in France. 
Thus, as early as 1742, the poet Gray wrote to Richard West: 

In truth, Shakespear's language is one of his principal beauties; and he 
has no less advantage over your Addisons and Rowes in this, than in 
those other great excellencies you mention. Every word in him is a 
picture. Pray put me the following lines into the tongue of our modern 

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks, 
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass: 
I, that am rudely stamp t, and want love's majesty 
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph: 
I, that am curtail'd of this fair proportion, 

1 Rassetas. 

1 Hazlitt is impatient with Johnson: 'He in fact found the general species or didactic form 
in Shakespear's characters, which was all he sought or cared for.' 


Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, 
Deform'd, unfinished, sent before my time 
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up 

And what follows. To me they appear untranslatable; and if this be the 
case, our language is greatly degenerated. 

And ten years later Joseph Warton wrote a series of critical papers 
on The Tempest and King Lear in which he protested that 'general 
criticism is on all subjects useless and unentertaining, but is more than 
commonly absurd with respect to Shakespeare, who must be accom- 
panied step by step, and scene by scene, in his gradual developments 
of characters and passions, and whose finer features must be singly 
pointed out, if we would do complete justice to his genuine beauties'. 
When Thomas Whately died in 1772 he was engaged on a book 
devoted to the analysis of Shakespeare's characters, but all that we 
have is the essay, published after his death, comparing Richard III 
and Macbeth. It is an interesting piece of critical writing and im- 
portant as being a fragment from what would have been the first 
book dealing exclusively with Shakespeare's characters. 1 

William Richardson's Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of 
some of Shakespeare's Remarkable Characters^ 1774, is important 
mainly as an example of the new trend in criticism and as being the 
first book, as opposed to essays, to be published on Shakespeare. 
Intrinsically it is not very valuable, being an attempt to attach Shake- 
speare to philosophy, but he makes the acute remark that Hamlet's 
actions were the result of his mother's conduct rather than of his 
father's murder. 

But the most remarkable essay of this transitional phase between 
the Classical and Romantic periods is that of Maurice Morgann On 
the Dramatic Character of Sir John Falstaff y published in 17^7. In 
this essay he draws attention for the first time to the fact that there 
is something essentially different between Shakespeare's characters 
and those of other writers: 'There is a certain roundness and integrity 
in the forms of Shakespeare, which give them an independence as well 
as a relation, insomuch that we often meet with passages, which tho' 

1 It was to Whately that Hazlitt who was infuriatingly careless about verifying his foots 
and quotations referred in the Preface to his own Characters of Sbakcspear's Plays (1817): 
'A gentleman of the name of Mason, the author of a Treatise on Ornamental Gardening 
(not Mason the poet), began a work of a similar kind about forty years ago, but he only lived 
to finish a parallel between the characters of Macbeth and Richard III. which is an exceed- 
ingly ingenious piece of analytical criticism.' He adds: 'Richardson's Essays include but a 
few of Shakespear's principal characters. The only work which seemed to supersede the 
necessity of an attempt lie the present was Schlegel's very admirable Lectures on the 
Drama.* It was a matter of some importance to the critics concerned as to who had the 
honour of introducing the new criticism. Coleridge claimed it for himself. 


perfectly felt, cannot be sufficiently explained in words, without un- 
folding the whole character of the speaker.' He lifts Falstaff out of 
his dramatic environment and considers him as an historical person, 
and speculates as to how he would act under other circumstances. 1 
But in the middle of his essay he can restrain himself no longer, and 
after attacking with gusto the 'wild, uncultivated barbarian' con- 
ception of Shakespeare, he allows himself to be carried away by his 
admiration for the sheer beauties of Shakespeare, and, forgetting 
Falstaff, writes a panegyric that might have come from the pen of 
Coleridge or Hazlitt, and only pauses when 'his observations have 
brought him near to the regions of poetic magic' but not before he 
has made the significant remark that 'Poesy is magic ', not nature*. 

The critics of the classical school had viewed Shakespeare's work 
as a whole, but as it were from a distance, as though it were a building 
to be judged by Palladian and measurable standards of construction, 
and though they were bound to admit its power, and seen in certain 
lights indeed its sublimity, they were appalled by its lack of plan, its 
sprawling irrelevancies, its extravagant and barbaric mixture of styles. 
But the pre-Romantic critics, in particular Morgann, recognised 
within the bewildering diversity the unifying force of Shakespeare's 
creative power as exemplified in his characters, and on these they 
principally concentrated their attention. 

This interest in the characters may have been stimulated by Garrick, 
with whose productions of Shakespeare he produced twenty-four of 
the plays at Drury Lane between 1747 and 1776 the period 
coincided. Not only did he bring to the stage a new naturalism in 
place of the old declamatory style of acting, 2 but he abandoned many 
of the Restoration versions of the plays and restored much of the 
original text, though he was guilty of an egotistic adaptation of Hamlet 
with rather more of the prince and none of the 'grossieretes abomin- 
ables' of the grave-diggers, and he made new and pretty adaptations 
of three or four of the comedies. He did much to popularise Shake- 
speare, and it would not perhaps be very far wrong to say that the 

1 This is the earliest example of what Croce calls objectivistic criticism, legitimate up to 
a point, but 'what is known as the Hamlet-Litter atur is the most appalling of all these mani- 
festations and it is daily on the increase. Historians, psychologists, lovers of amorous ad* 
ventures, gossips, police-spies, criminologists investigate the character, the intentions, the 
thoughts, the affections, the temperament, the previous life, the tricks they played, the 
secrets they hid, their family and social relations, and so on, and crowd, without any real 
claim to do so, round the "characters of Shakespeare", detaching them from the creative 
centre of the play and transferring them into a pretended objective field, as though they were 
made of flesh and blood/ Ariosto y Shakespeare, and CorneiUe. 

* 'Garrick was no declaimer; there was not one of his own scene-shifters who could not 
have spoken To be, or not to be better than he did} yet he was the only actor I ever saw whom 
I could call a master both in tragedy and comedy.' Johnson* 


popular conception of Shakespeare even today is that projected by 
Garrick in the statue that Roubiliac made to his order, a peculiarly 
composite and histrionic figure. 1 

Garrick retired in 1776, Maurice Morgann's essay was published 
in 1777, and between then and 1811, when Lamb wrote his essay 
On the Tragedies of Shakespeare^ there was no English Shakespearean 
criticism of importance, though Coleridge gave a course of lectures 
as early as 1802. In the theatre it was the age of Mrs. Siddons and 
John Philip Kemble,* the manager first of Drury Lane and then from 
1803 to 1817 of the rival house of Covent Garden. Both these 
theatres had been burned down within six months of one another in 
1808-9 an( J were rebuilt on a considerably larger scale to cope with 
the swelling audience; this increase in size necessitated a slower and 
more simplified form of acting than Garrick's, something very 
different from the intimate productions of Shakespeare's time. 

But though the last quarter of the eighteenth century produced 
little English criticism it marks a new era in scholarship. In 1778 
appeared Steevens's revised edition of the plays, containing in the 
introduction a mass of new material, including extracts from the 
Stationers' Register, a drawing of the Globe Theatre, a reproduction 
of Shakespeare's will, and a catalogue of the quartos then known. 
CapelPs Notes and Various Readings and The School of Shakespeare 

1 It was the statue of Garrick in Westminster Abbey that inspired Lamb to write hi 
essay On the Tragedies of Shakespeare : 

'Taking a turn the other 'day in the Abbey, I was struck with the affected attitude of a 
figure, which I do not remember to have seen before, and which upon examination proved 
to be a whole-length of the celebrated Mr. Garrick. Though I would not go so far with some 
good catholics abroad as to shut players altogether out of concecrated ground, yet I own I 
was not a little scandalised at the introduction of theatrical airs and gestures into a place set 
apart to remind us of the saddest realities. Going nearer, I found inscribed under this 
harlequin figure the following lines: 

To paint fair nature by divine command, 
Her magic pencil in his glowing hand, 
A Shakespeare rose: then, to expand his fame, 
Wide o'er this breathing world, a Garrick came. 
Though sunk in death the forms the Poet drew, 
The actor's genius bade them breathe anew; 
Though, like the bard himself, in night they lay 
Immortal Garrick calPd them back to day 
And till Eternity with pow'r sublime 
Shall mark the mortal hour of hoary Time, 
Shakespeare and Garrick like twin-stars shall shine, 
And earth irradiate with a beam divine. 

It would be an insult to my readers 1 understandings to attempt anything like a criticism 
on this farrago of false thoughts and nonsense.' 

8 'It is difficult for a frequent playgoer to disembarrass the idea of Hamlet from the person 
and voice of Mr. K. We speak of Lady Macbeth* while we arc in reality thinking of Mrs. ..' 


were printed in 1779-80 and published in 1783, with an essay on the 
chronology of the plays based partly on internal evidence, partly on 
the external evidence of Meres's Palladis Tamia and of the Stationers* 
Register. In 1778 the industrious Malone had published his Attempt 
to ascertain the order in which the plays attributed to Shakespeare were 
written^ in which he explains how 'all the ancient copies of Shake- 
speare's plays, hitherto discovered, have been collated with the most 
scrupulous accuracy. . . . Almost every circumstance that tradition 
or history has preserved relative to him or his works has been in- 
vestigated, and laid before the public.* He followed this up in 1780 
with an edition of the Poems and the seven doubtful plays of the Third 
Folio; in 1790 he produced his own ten-volume edition of Shake- 
speare's works, and his labours were crowned in 1821 with the 
publication in twenty-one volumes of 'Boswell's Malone', the Third 
Variorum edition which embodies the results of eighteenth-century 
research, not only into the text, authenticity, and chronology of the 
plays, but also into Shakespeare's life, verse, grammar, even punctua- 
tion, and into contemporary literature and records such as Henslowe's 

But it was from Germany that came in this period the criticism 
that revolutionised the conception of Shakespeare, the dramatist. 
Until the eighteenth century Germany, whose polite society spoke 
French, had no great native literature, and taking their lead from 
Frederick the Great, her writers were content to imitate the Neo- 
Classical French who derided the barbarous Shakespeare; but in the 
second half of the century there appeared a school of writers who 
reacted violently against both political and literary despotism, against 
tyranny in any form, and therefore against the rules and restrictions 
of classicism, and who instead of Racine chose Shakespeare as their 
model. The very characteristics that Voltaire condemned, his law- 
lessness and irregularity, were seized upon as virtues by these apostles 
of Sturm und Drang, and Shakespeare was hailed as a 'pure virgin 
genius, ignorant of rules and limits, a force as irresistible as those of 
nature'. In 1767-8 Lessing wrote a series of articles in connection 
with the newly established but short-lived German National Theatre 
in Hamburg; these are known as the Hamburgische Dramaturgie^ and 
in them he discusses the true meaning of Aristotle's Poetics^ and 
maintains the inferiority of French tragedy to that of Shakespeare. 
'But is it always Shakespeare, always and eternally Shakespeare who 
understood everything better than the French?' he asks rhetorically. 
And the answer implied is 'Yes'. 

But the Sturm und Drang movement may be said to begin in 
Strasburg in the winter of 1770-1, when Herder, a warmer and even 


more enthusiastic supporter of Shakespeare than Lessing, opened the 
young Goethe's imagination to the beauties of Shakespeare. Goethe 
tells how the first page of Shakespeare that he read made him a life- 
long admirer, and how he was overwhelmed by the colossal scale of 
the characters and his elemental power. With Goethe as champion 
the position of Shakespeare in Germany was assured, and A. W. 
SchlegePs brilliant translation of the plays, 1797-1810, besides being 
perhaps the most significant achievement of the Romantic School, 
.made Shakespeare into a national poet of the German people. 1 German 
criticism is more philosophic than that of England and France: for 
Schlegel Shakespeare is 'in strength a demi-god, in profundity of view ' 
a prophet, in all-seeing wisdom a protecting spirit of a higher order', 
and the German critics as a whole saw in his plays a deeper and more 
mysterious significance than had hitherto been perceived, but a 
significance that was appreciated by the English Romantics and was 
powerfully to influence the work of Coleridge. 

It was this discovery of Shakespeare by the Germans, almost their 
identification of Shakespeare with themselves, and particularly 
Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic Art in 1 808, that was partly respons- 
ible for Hazlitt's book on The Characters of Shakespear's Plays 
(1817), the first English book of Romantic Shakespearean criticism. 
'We will at the same time confess', he writes, 'that some little jealousy 
of the character of the national understanding was not without its 
share in producing the following undertaking, for "we were piqued" 
that it should be reserved for a foreign critic to give "reasons for the 
faith which we English have in Shakespear'V 

Hazlitt's book had a conventional enough title, reminiscent of the 
critics of forty years before, of Whately and Morgann, but there is 
little that is conventional in the text; it is something new in the 
criticism of Shakespeare, not a judicial balancing of virtues against 
defects, not Shakespeare at a distance but Shakespeare at close quarters, 
an intimate revelation of the beauties of the plays. Ostensibly the 
theme is 'the characters', but, like Morgann, Hazlitt is carried away 
by the magic of poetry which, in his *happy intoxication', he cannot 
refrain from quoting and often misquoting at length, and the book 
becomes the first interpretation of Shakespeare in English. 'The 
book', wrote Francis Jeffrey, 'is written less to tell the reader what 
Mr. H. knows about Shakespeare or his writings, than to explain to 
him what he/**/r about them and why he feels so and thinks that 

1 Crocc, the Italian, writes ironically: 'Shakespeare stands, either beside Durer and 
Rembrandt, or on a spur of Parnassus, facing Homer and Aeschylus on another spur, some- 
timei permitting Dante to stand at his side Dante was of Genmn origin while the im- 
potent crowd of poets of the Latin race seethes at his feet.' 


all who profess to love poetry should feel so likewise. . . . When we 
have said that his observations are generally right, we have said, in 
substance, that they are not generally original.' But the observations 
were original in this sense: that whatever other people might have 
thought, nobody before had written in such detail and at such length, 
with such understanding and with such gusto on the poetry of Shake- 
speare. It is all the more remarkable that his idolatry of Shakespeare 
(not to say his admiration) ceases with his plays, that Venus and 
Adonis and Lucrece appear to him 'like a couple of ice-boxes', and that 
he did not well know what to say about the Sonnets, for it seemed to 
him that 'in expressing the thoughts of others, Shakespear was in- 
spired; in expressing his own, he was a mechanic'. 

Lamb wrote little Shakespearean criticism, but the little he wrote 
is the more precious for its scarcity. In 1808 he had produced his 
Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of 
Shakespeare^ the notes to which have never been surpassed for their 
sensitive appreciation of the Elizabethans, 1 and reveal the startling gap 
that separates him and the Romantics from Johnson and the Classicists. 
Then in 1811 came his essay On the Tragedies . of Shakespeare, con- 
sidered with reference to their fitness for Stage Representation, with its 
passionate and typically Romantic plea for the liberty of the imagina- 
tion and its emancipation from the tyranny of the stage. 'The Lear of 
Shakespeare cannot be acted', he roundly declares, and he has never 
been satisfactorily answered, though Mr. Granville-Barker has 
perhaps come the nearest to an answer. 2 The fact remains that many 
of those who' care most for Shakespeare are infrequent attenders at 
the performances of his plays, or at least of his great tragedies. 3 The 
theatre is invaluable as an introduction to Shakespearean tragedy, but 

1 Sec, for example, his note on Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (p. 98), and his comparison 
of Fletcher with Shakespeare: 

'Fletcher's ideas moved slow; his versification, though sweet, is tedious, it stops at every 
turn; he lays line upon line, making up one after the other, adding image to image so de- 
liberately, that we see their junctures. Shakspeare mingles every thing, runs line into line, 
embarrasses sentences and metaphors; before one idea has burst its shell, another is hatched 
and clamorous for disclosure.' 

2 See p. 448. 

8 'How, I ask you, are stage-enthusiasts I ask you, Granville-Barker, and you, too, 
Desmond MacCarthy, and you, Maurice Baring going to answer Robertson, Charles Lamb, 
Hazlitt, Coleridge, Goethe and me? It is really up to you to make a reply; and such a reply 
to be valid should, I suggest, enumerate first of all the scenes in Shakespeare's plays which 
are only effective upon the stage, and secondly a record of concrete esthetic experiences, of 
the rendering of Shakespearean roles by great actors and actresses by which the imaginative 
impression of these roles has been deepened and enriched.' Logan Pear sail Smith: On Reading 

But Hazlitt was not a very certain supporter of Lamb: 'Perhaps one of the finest pieces 
of acting that ever was witnessed on the stage, is Mr. Kean's manner of doing this scene and 
his repetition of the word Banished. He treads close indeed upon the genius of his author. 


for many of the initiated, as for Lamb, the 'fine abstraction* of reading 
the plays, or rather of reading their poetry, is preferable. 

But it is Coleridge above all others who is the interpreter of Shake- 
speare, the inspired critic who revealed for the first time the immense 
range of Shakespeare's genius, and pointed out the innumerable and 
previously undiscovered approaches to an appreciation of it. He was 
jealous of his claim to be the founder of the new criticism and resented 
the implication in Wordsworth's essay that he might owe something 
to the Germans. The passage in Wordsworth's Essay , Supplementary 
to the Preface (1815) is worth quoting at length: 

At this day the French Critics have abated nothing of their aversion 
to this darling of our Nation: 'the English, with their boufFon de Shak- 
speare', is as familiar an expression among them as in the time of Voltaire. 
Baron Grimm is the only French writer who seems to have perceived 
his infinite superiority to the first names of the French Theatre: an 
advantage which the Parisian Critic owed to his German blood and 
German education. The most enlightened Italians, though well 
acquainted with our language, are wholly incompetent to measure the 
proportions of Shakspeare. The Germans only, of foreign nations, are 
approaching towards a knowledge and feeling of what he is. In some 
respects they have acquired a superiority over the fellow-countrymen of 
the Poet: for among us it is a current, I might say, an established opinion, 
that Shakspeare is justly praised when he is pronounced to be *a wild 
irregular genius, in whom great faults are compensated by great beauties'. 
How long may it be before this misconception passes away, and it 
becomes universally acknowledged that the judgment of Shakspeare in 
the selection of his materials, and in the manner in which he has made 
them, heterogeneous as they often are, constitute a unity of their own, 
and contribute all to one great end, is not less admirable than his 
imagination, his invention, and his intuitive knowledge of human 

To this Coleridge replied in a letter dated February 1818 'to a 
gentleman who attended the course of Lectures given in the spring 
of that year': 

My next Friday's lecture will, if I do not grossly flatter-blind myself, 
be interesting, and the points of view not only original, but new to the 
audience. I make this distinction, because sixteen or rather seventeen 

A passage which this celebrated actor and able commentator on Shakespear (actors are the 
best commentators on the poets) did not give with equal truth/ etc. 

On the other hand: 

Boswell: 'But has Garrick not brought Shakspeare into notice?' 

Johnson: 'Sir, to allow that, would be to lampoon the age. Many of Shakspeare's plays are 
the worse for being acted: Macbeth, for instance/ 


years ago, I delivered eighteen lectures on Shakspeare, at the Royal 
Institution: three-fourths of which appeared at that time startling 
paradoxes, although they have since been adopted even by men, who 
then made use of them as proofs of my flighty and paradoxical turn of 
mind; all to prove that Shakspeare's judgment was, if possible, still more 
wonderful than his genius; or rather, that the contradistinction itself 
between judgment and genius rested on an utterly false theory. This, 
and its proofs and grounds have been I should not have said adopted, 
but produced as their own legitimate children by some, and by others 
the merit of them attributed to a foreign writer, whose lectures were 
not given orally till two years after mine, rather than to their countryman; 
though I dare appeal to the most adequate judges . . . whether there is 
one single principle in Schlegel's work (which is not an admitted draw- 
back from its merits), that was not established and applied in detail 
by me. 

Whether Coleridge owed anything to Schlegel, or Schlegel to 
Coleridge, or whether they worked independently, as seems most 
probable, is perhaps not very important; but it is almost impossible to 
over-estimate the importance of Coleridge's criticism itself. It is true 
that Coleridge can be intolerably tedious, that he rarely seems able to 
resist a philosophical detour 'I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I 
may say so', be ingenuously remarks and that occasionally, like a 
conjurer bringing rabbits out of a hat, he "professes to have discov- 
ered treasure in some neglected [and] dusty corner of his subject. Sir 
Walter Raleigh in his Six Essays on Johnson (1907), writing of the 
Romantic critics in general but with particular reference to Coleridge, 

The romantic attitude begins to be fatiguing. The great romantic 
critics, when they are writing at their best, do succeed in communi- 
cating to the reader those thrills of wonder and exaltation which they 
have felt in contact with Shakespeare's imaginative work. This is not 
a little thing to do; but it cannot be done continuously, and it has 
furnished the workaday critic with a vicious model. There is a taint of 
insincerity about romantic criticism, from which not even the great 
romantics are free. They are never in danger from the pitfalls that 
waylay the plodding critic; but they are always falling upward, as it 
were, into vacuity. They love to lose themselves in O altitudo. From 
the most worthless material they will fashion a new hasty altar to the 
unknown God. When they are inspired by their divinity they say 
wonderful things; when the inspiration fails them their language is 
maintained at the same height, and they say more than they feel. You 
can never be sure of them. 


This is excellently said, and all this may be admitted, but the solid 
achievement of Coleridge remains, and it is worth more than that of 
any other Shakespearean critic before or since. 

The critics of the classical school, particularly the French, judged 
Shakespeare as a dramatist whose worth must depend on the structure 
of his plays and the conduct of his actions; the one they found too 
irregular, the other too extravagant. In England about the middle 
of the eighteenth century came a transitional phase, when a few 
amateur critics seized on the characters as the most significant feature 
of the plays, while in Germany a few years later the characters were 
alternately defined by the light and obscured by the mists of meta- 
physics and mysticism. Coleridge modified and developed the 
criticism of all these aspects of Shakespeare's work, added his own 
inspired contribution and swept them into a great critical synthesis. 

His first object was to overthrow the pernicious classical doctrine 
that Shakespeare's plays are remarkable only because the splendour of 
the parts compensates for the barbarous shapelessness and irregularity 
of the whole: 'In all the successive courses of lectures delivered by 
me, since my first attempt at the Royal Institution, it has been, and 
it still remains, my object, to prove that in all points from the most 
important to the most minute, the judgment of Shakspeare is com- 
mensurate with his genius nay, that his genius reveals itself in his 
judgment, as in its most exalted form.' This he does once and for all 
when he explains how 'the true ground of the mistake lies in the con- 
founding mechanical regularity with organic form'; that Shake- 
speare's form is not mechanically impressed from without, but like 
natural forms is organic, shaping itself as it develops, from within. 

Coleridge's second great contribution to the critical study of 
Shakespeare was to proclaim and demonstrate to the world that not 
only was Shakespeare a great dramatist but also the greatest poet that 
England, certainly, possibly the world, had produced. It is remark- 
able that, apart from contemporaries and near-contemporaries like 
Ben Jonson and Milton, no critic before Coleridge seems to have been 
aware that Shakespeare was before all else a poet. 1 Indeed, this is still 
not widely appreciated, and the divinest aspect of Shakespeare's 
genius, his poetry, is the one that has been most neglected. Thousands 
of books have been written about Shakespeare and every subject 
remotely connected with him, from botany to Bacon, but none has 
yet dealt adequately with his poetry. Shakespeare was a poet before 
he was a dramatist, almost, it might be said, in his last plays a poet 

1 The Biograpbia Liuraria was published in 1817, Notes and Lectures upon Sbaktpeare 
posthumously in 1849, DUt some * ^ c note * were compiled and tome of the lectures delivered 
as early as 1802. 


after he was a dramatist, and it is possible that he turned playwright 
only, or at least mainly, from economic motives. 'Clothed in radiant 
armour', says Coleridge, 'Shakspeare came forward to demand the 
throne of fame, as the dramatic poet of England. . . . But he had 
shown himself a poet, previously to his appearance as a dramatic 
poet', and in the ensuing analysis of Penus and Adonis he shows that 
the young Shakespeare had 'the chief, if not every, requisite of a 
poet 1 . 

It is by the means of these two new conceptions of Shakespeare, 
as a great artist and a great poet, that Coleridge achieves what is after 
all the end of his criticism, the 'communicating to the reader those 
thrills of wonder and exaltation which he has felt in contact with 
Shakespeare's imaginative work'. 'Not a little thing to do', indeed! 
Without in the least wishing to belittle the achievements of Johnson, 
I suggest that the reader look at Coleridge's notes on, say, Romeo and 
Juliet or The Tempest^ and then consider who has added most to his 
understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare, Johnson or Coleridge. 
He may be an uncertain guide, and his followers need to be on their 
guard against his aberrations, but if, as Mr. Eliot says, 'it is impossible 
to understand Shakespeare criticism to this day, without a familiar 
acquaintance with Coleridge's lectures and notes', it might almost as 
truly be said -that without such an acquaintance it is impossible to 
understand so far as it is possible to understand at all Shakespeare 

The fourth of the great Romantic critics was De Quincey, who 
though, like Lamb, he wrote little Shakespearean criticism, yet wrote 
one of the finest and most penetrating appreciations that have ever 
been written: On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth (i 823). Perhaps 
it is not altogether irrelevant here to observe that in Crime and 
Punishment Dostoevski adopts the same device as Shakespeare does 
It will be remembered that when Raskolnikov, with whom we are 
in sympathy in De Quincey's sense of the word has murdered the 
two women in the garret there comes a ring at the bell and cheerful 
talk on the stairs outside which, like the knocking at the gate and the 
porter's ribaldry in Macbeth^ 'makes known audibly that the reaction 
has commenced; the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish; 
the pulses of life are beginning to beat again; and the re-establishment 
of the goings-on of the world in which we live, first makes us pro- 
foundly sensible of the awful parenthesis that had suspended them'. 

When Wordsworth wrote in 1815 that French critics had abated 
nothing of their aversion to Shakespeare and that Baron Grimm was 
the only French writer really to understand him, he was not being 
strictly accurate. There were two writers, at least, of the epoch of 


the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, the uneasy period that lies 
between French Classicism and Romanticism, who did not think of 
Shakespeare as a bouffon. Madame de Stael, although her roots were 
in the eighteenth century, recognised that the age of Voltaire was 
over, and in her De la Literature (1800) admitted that England 
and Germany, Shakespeare and Schiller were the models for France. 
Although she could not condone all the extravagances of Shakespeare, 
and incidentally ranked Henry VI with King Lear^her appreciation 
is far less qualified than Voltaire's; Shakespeare has his faults, but he 
is certainly not a buffoon. Chateaubriand, too, in his Melanges 
Litttraires (1801), though not without regret for the glories of the 
past, turns to Shakespeare as a source of the Romantic beauty which 
he preached. 

But it was the youthful Victor Hugo who trumpeted the full 
Romantic faith and scattered the rearguard of Classicism. 1 'Art', he 
maintained, 'has nothing to do with leading-strings, with hand-cuffs, 
with gags: it says "Go your ways" and lets you loose in the great 
garden of poetry, where there is no forbidden fruit. Space and time 
are the domain of the poet. Let him go where he will and do what 
he pleases: this is the Law.' And again: 'Is the work good or bad? 
This is the whole extent of the critical province.' In his Preface to 
Cromwell he vigorously attacks the unities, defends Shakespeare's 
combination of the sublime with the grotesque, and proclaims him a 
god of the theatre who unites in himself the genius of Corneille, 
Moli&re, and Beaumarchais. A Frenchman could scarcely make a 
greater claim than this, and though other French critics could not go 
all the way with him, there was in nineteenth-century France a 
generous appreciation of Shakespeare and a wide recognition that he 
is perhaps the greatest of them all. 

In the English theatre the period after 1815 begins with Edmund 
Kean, Hazlitt's favourite, and like his predecessors Garrick and 
Kemble, and his successors Macready, Phelps, Charles Kean, Irving, 
and Tree, a fiery star about whom wandered the pallid satellites who 
made up the rest of the company. He was followed by Macready, 
who had the good taste to restore Shakespeare's King Lear in place 
of Tate's version, and generally treated Shakespeare in a scholarly 
fashion. In 1843 Drury Lane and Covent Garden lost their mono- 

1 How powerful these forces still were may be judged by the violence of the attack on 
Hugo when at the opening of Hernani he was so vulgar as to mention a back-staircase, un 
escalier <ttrobe y and so revolutionary as to place escalier at the end of one line and dtrobt at 
the beginning of the next. Words had come to be divided into those that were 'noble* and 
those that were 'bag', and only the noble were permissible in poetry. This explains why, at 
about the time Hugo was writing his Preface to Cromwell, there was a riot in the theatre 
during a performance of Otbetto when the word 'mouchoir' was mentioned. 



poly, and though the increase in number of the theatres checked their 
increase in size, Drury Lane and Covent Garden were already so big 
that a large proportion of the audience could not hear and could 
scarcely see the actors. This led naturally to exaggerated gestures and 
speech and to a dependence on music and spectacle for effect, a develop- 
ment that was intensified by the disappearance of the apron stage and 
by the public demaiid^xi^realism. This movement towards realism 
may perhaps be sai(Ttohave begun with Kemble who in 1823, with 
the aid of the antiquarian J. R. Planche, produced King John in 
elaborately correct historical costume. How far this antiquarian- 
spectacular movement had gone by the middle of the century may be 
judged by Charles Kean's preface to his production of The Winter's 
Tale in 1856, a formidable play for the would-be realist producer 
when 'chronological contradictions abound, inasmuch as reference is 
made to the Delphic Oracle, Christian burial, an Emperor of Russia, 
and an Italian painter of the sixteenth century'. However, he does 
his best: 

The pivot on which the story revolves, is in fact the decision pro- 
nounced by the oracle of Delphi; and taking this incident as the corner 
stone of the whole fabric, I have adopted a period when Syracuse, 
according to Thucydides, had, from a mere Doric colony, increased in 
magnificence* to a position in no way inferior to that of Athens herself, 
when at the summit of her political prosperity. An opportunity is thus 
afforded of reproducing a classical era, and placing before the eyes of 
the spectator, tableaux v wants of the private and public life of the 
ancient Greeks, at a time when the arts flourished to a perfection, the 
scattered vestiges of which still delight and instruct the world. . . . 

To connect the country known as 'Bohemia' with an age so remote, 
would be impossible: I have therefore followed the suggestion of Sir 
Thomas Hanmer by the substitution of Bithynia. The difference of 
name in no way affects the incidents or metre of the play, while it 
enables me to represent the costume of the inhabitants of Asia Minor 
at a corresponding period, associated so intimately with Greece, and 
acquiring additional interest from close proximity to the Homeric 
kingdom of Troy. 

This reproduction of a classical era also had the advantage that it 
enabled him to introduce a Pyrrhic Dance and Cronos instead of 
'Time, as Chorus', together with 'an allegorical tableau of Luna and 
the Stars (personified), sinking before the car of Phcebus, which rises 
with all its attributes of splendour. Each figure is taken from an 
antique, or from the works of Flaxman.' It also enabled him to 
substitute for the sheep-shearing scene a Dionysiac Festival at which, 


no doubt, instead of 'hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram, the 
marigold that goes to bed with the sun', Perdita distributed 'the vegeta- 
tion peculiar to Bithynia, adopted from the private drawings of George 
Scharf, Esq., F.S.A., taken on the spot'. 

Song and dance, and elaborate scenery laboriously moved, left little 
time for Shakespeare's text, and what was left after cutting had to be 
rearranged so that scenes could be run together. This was the 
tradition handed down to Henrv Irving, who dominated the stage for 
the last thirty years of the century and performed Shakespeare with 
splendour in the grand style, though without the 'richly upholstered 
revelations' of Tree, and incidentally without the speed and fluidity 
so necessary to Shakespearean productions. 

In the middle if the century Phelps had proved to be an honourable 
exception to the craze for the spectacular, producing at Sadler's Wells 
nearly all Shakespeare's plays with simple settings. In the last fifty 
years the movement back to Elizabethan simplicity was begun by 
F. R. Benson, and by Mr. William Poel 'with fanatical courage, 
when "realism" was at the tottering height of its triumph in the later 
revivals of Sir Henry Irving', and continued by Mr. Nugent Monck 
at the Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich, and by Mr. Granville- 
Barker, whose Prefaces to Shakespeare are among the most valuable 
'and original contributions to recent Shakespearean criticism. 

In the nineteenth century there was a steady and organised advance 
in Shakespearean scholarship. The first Shakespeare Society lasted 
from 1840 to 1853, when the forgeries of its founder, J. P. Collier, 
were discovered. The second Shakespeare Society (1873-94) was 
founded by F. J. Furnivall who, with J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, was 
the outstanding Shakespearean scholar of the century. Both societies 
published an immense amount of valuable material, and Furnivall 
explained the objects of the two: 'Antiquarian illustration, emenda- 
tion, and verbal criticism to say nothing of forgery, or at least, 
publication of forg'd documents were of the first school. The sub- 
ject of the growth, the oneness of Shakspere, the links between his 
successive plays, the light thrown on each by comparison with its 
neighbour, the distinctive characteristics of each Period and its con- 
trast with the others, the treatment of the same or like incidents etc. 
in the different Periods of Shakspere's life this subject, in all its 
branches, is the special business of the present, the second school of 
Victorian students.' 

Halliwell-Phillipps concentrated mainly on biographical material 
and contemporary records; Furnivall developed the study of verse- 
tests, begun by Malone in his Attempt to ascertain the order in which 
Shakespeare's plays were written^ but only as a means to the end of 


'higher aesthetic criticism', and the remedying of 'the great defect of 
the English school of Shakespeareans, their neglect to study Shakspere 
as a whole'. How faulty was this knowledge of the chronological 
order of the plays at the beginning of the century can be seen by 
looking at Coleridge's attempted classifications, in which he placed 
The Winter's Tale and Cymbeline as two of the very earliest plays to be 
written. The discovery of the approximate order and the consequent 
ability to 'study Shakespeare as a whole' was perhaps the most im- 
portant contribution of the Victorian scholars. 

The Cambridge Shakespeare^ which has become almost the standard 
text, was published in 1 863-6, and advances were made in the study 
of Shakespeare's English (Abbott's Shakespeare Grammar^ 1869), of 
Shakespeare's Stage (Collier's History of English Dramatic Poetry and 
Annals of the Stage, 1837), of Shakespeare's Life (Sidney Lee's Life 
of William Shakespeare^ 1 898), and in many other directions. 

The most important recent publications have been, perhaps, Sir 
Edmund Chambers's Elizabethan Stage (1923) and his invaluable 
William Shakespeare (1930), an exhaustive study of facts and problems, 
and H. Granville-Barker's Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927-46), studies 
of the plays from the angle of the producer; while the most important 
research has been that of A. W. Pollard, J. Dover Wilson, W. W. 
Greg, and R.%W. Chambers into Shakespeare's handwriting in the 
play of Sir Thomas More, 1 A. W. Pollard's work on the transmission 
of the text from Quarto or manuscript to Folio and his division of 
the Quartos into 'Good' and 'Bad', and Dr. Caroline Spurgeon's 
analysis of Shakespeare's imagery. 

In Germany, France, and in Russia too, Shakespeare was one of 
the main sources of inspiration of the Romantic Movement that 
swept through Europe in the early years of the nineteenth century, 
and since then he has been firmly established as the most influential 
and international of poets, 8 although the Germans have from time to 
time attempted to naturalise him. According to Gervinus, writing in 
1850, 'the man who first valued Shakespeare according to his full 
desert was indisputably Lessing. One single passage, where, in his 
"Dramaturgic", he speaks of Romeo and Juliet, shows plainly that he 
apprehended his plays in their innermost nature.' Then a few years 
later, 'in "Wilhelm Meister", Goethe produced that characteristic of 
Hamlet, which is like a key to all works of the poet'. So it is small 
wonder that 'through industry and love, just as England did with our 
Handel, we have won the great poet for ourselves . . . and Shake- 

1 Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More. (See p. 490.) 

2 Gcorg Brandes's massive William Shakespeare (1896) has done much for Shakespeare on 
the Continent. 


speare, from his diffusion and influence, has become a German poet 
almost more than any of our native writers', though he complains 
that 'England has not suffered herself to be robbed of the poet in the 
same manner as we have been of the musician'. 

In England the impact of the great Romantic critics was twofold, 
both good and bad: on the one hand they succeeded in communicating 
to others something c^" the ecstasy they experienced themselves in their 
discovery of Shakespeare, on the other they supplied later critics with 
*a vicious model', and the nineteenth century is full of what Croce 
calls exclamatory criticism, 'which instead of understanding a poet in 
his particularity, his finite-infinity, drowns him beneath a flood of 
superlatives'. Few people, not even Voltaire, had ever questioned 
Shakespeare's genius; on the other hand, until about 1770 few people 
had admitted his 'art'; but when Coleridge had demonstrated that 
Shakespeare's art was as great as, if not greater than, his genius, what 
could there be left to find fault with? Shakespeare was beyond 
criticism and there was nothing left for the critics but to adore and 
see who could shout his adulation the loudest. 

It is perhaps a little unfair of Croce to single out Carlyle and 
Swinburne as two of his examples of critics of the exclamatory school 
Victor Hugo is the third; Carlyle was speaking in his prophetic 
capacity rather than in that of critic when he wrote Heroes and Hero- 
Worship, though it must be confessed that he was something less than 
critical when he wrote: 'We may say without offence, that there rises 
a kind of universal Psalm out of this Shakspeare too; not unfit to 
make itself heard among the still more sacred Psalms.' On the other 
hand it is not easy to see why Croce should think Carlyle ridiculous 
when he 'stood in perplexity before the hypothetical dilemma, as to 
whether England could better afford to lose "the empire of India or 
Shakespeare".' Carlyle was being more prophetic than he knew: 
Indian Empire will go at any rate, some day', and though the dilemma 
was hypothetical, India was a real measure of the value that Carlyle 
attached to Shakespeare; and should not we too be forced to answer 
with him, 'We cannot give up our Shakespeare'? As for Swinburne, 
he was, like Coleridge, a poet interpreting a poet, and though, when 
his hyperbole borders on the ridiculous, as when he says that A 
Midsummer Nighfs Dream stands 'without and above any possible 
and imaginable criticism', it is no sufficient excuse to say that he always 
fell into hyperbole when talking about the Elizabethans, whether 
Drake, or Marlowe, or Shakespeare, yet it is only fair to add that this 
inspired and errant critic, again like Coleridge, gives 'here and there 
marvellous interpretations, and above all, little, immense insights into 
the processes of artistic creation'. 


Side by side with exclamatory criticism went the organised and 
scientific study of statistics based on verse-tests under the leadership 
of Furnivall, with the object of discovering the chronological order of 
the plays so that Shakespeare could be studied as a whole, for 'Shakspere 
must be studied chronologically, and as a whole'. In Germany, Ulrici 
and Gervinus were working along similar lines, and when Gervinus 
published his Shakespeare Commentaries in 1850 the plays were"' 
arranged in an order not unlike that generally accepted today, and 
divided into three periods representing three stages of Shakespeare's 
development. Furnivall wrote a long Introduction to the English 
edition of 1875 in which he explained his own position and the 
importance of Gervinus's book: 

Though Gervinus's criticism is mainly aesthetic, yet, in settling the 
dates and relations of Shakspere's plays, he always shows a keen appre- 
ciation of the value of external evidence, and likewise of the metrical 
evidence, the markt changes of metre in Shakspere's verse as he advanct 
in life. As getting the right succession of Shakspere's plays is 'a condition 
precedent' to following the growth of his mind, and as 'metrical tests' 
are a great help to this end, though they have had, till lately, little 
attention given to them in England, I wish to say a few words on 
them. . . . 

Shakspere's course is thus shown to have run from the amorousness and 
fun of youth, through the strong patriotism of early manhood, to the 
wrestling with the dark problems that beset the man of middle age, to 
the time of gloom which weighd on Shakspere (as on so many men) in 
later life, when, though outwardly successful, the world seemd all 
against him, and his mind dwelt with sympathy on scenes of faithless- 
ness of friends, treachery of relations and subjects, ingratitude of children, 
scorn of his kind; till at last, in his Stratford home again, peace came 
to him, Miranda and Perdita in their lovely freshness and charm greeted 
him, and he was laid by his quiet Avon's side. 

This was the first statement of the reconciliation and serenity 
theme in its sentimental and popular form, an elaboration, made 
possible by Victorian scholarship, of Rowe's comfortable picture of 
Shakespeare spending 'the latter part of his life in ease, retirement, 
and the conversation of his friends'. 

The oneness of Shakespeare was accentuated in Gervinus's work 
by the unifying effect of his philosophical method. In the words of 
his translator: 

He has indeed so far followed in the steps of his predecessors in 
regarding his author not only as a poet and a dramatist, but as a moralist, 
and a master of human nature. But he has done more than this. Taking 


up the idea which Goethe only suggested in his criticism of Hamlet, 
he has pursued the course which the German poet indicated. He has 
perceived one ruling idea pervading every play, linking every part, 
every character, every episode, to one single aim. He has pointed out 
the binding thread in things which before seemed disconnected, and 
has found a justification for much that before seemed needlessly offensive 
and even immoral. 

But this is not altogether a true statement of affairs: Gervinus often 
forgets the dramatist, and scarcely remembers the poet, in his humility 
before 'that severe moral austerity' that justifies the death of Desde- 
mona and Othello. It was this kind of interpretation that moved 
Riimelin to protest that such dramatic justice is like Draco's san- 
guinary code, which decreed a single penalty for all misdeeds: death. 

When Furnivall founded the New Shakespeare Society in 1873 he 
had written reproachfully: 

It is a disgrace to England, that even now, 258 years after Shakspere's 
death, the study of him has been so narrow, and the criticism, however 
good, so devoted to the mere text and its illustration, and to studies 
of single plays, that no book by an Englishman exists which deals in 
any worthy manner with Shakspeare as a whole, which tracks the rise 
and growth of his genius from the boyish romanticism or the sharp 
youngmanishness of his early plays, to the magnificence, the splendour, 
the divine intuition, which marks his ablest works. The profound and 
generous 'Commentaries' of Gervinus an honour to a German to 
have written, a pleasure to an Englishman to read is still the only 
book known to me that comes near the true treatment and the dignity 
of its subject, or can be put into the hands of the student who wants 
to know the mind of Shakspere. 

But his appeal was answered in 1875 when Edward Dowden 
published his Shakspere: A Critical Study of his Mind and Art, the 
first attempt in English to treat Shakespeare as a whole, 'to connect 
the study of Shakspeare's works with an inquiry after the personality 
of the writer, and to observe, as far as is possible, in its several stages 
the growth of his intellect and character from youth to full maturity'. 
For this purpose he adopted FurnivalPs 'Trial Table of the Order of 
Shakespeare's Plays', and his division into four periods instead of 
Gervinus's three. It is a very readable book, but contains a somewhat 
idealised and sentimentalised picture of Shakespeare and his heroines, 
a picture that was readily acceptable to the Victorians, and one that 
has served as a model for many later critical studies. 

Ethical, exclamatory, and sentimental criticism, however, were not 


without their opponents. In 1864, the year of the tercentenary 
celebrations, Gustav Riimelin published his Shakespeare Studies by a 
Realist as a counterblast to the orgies of adulation. It may be perverse 
in parts, but it is a refreshing and significant attempt to extract Shake- 
speare from the vacuum created by over-imaginative critics and 
German professors and to reinstate him in his Elizabethan environ- 
ment. R. G. Moulton's Shakespeare as a dramatic artist. A popular 
Illustration of scientific criticism (1885) was a protest against the 
Dowden school of sentimental subjective interpretation, and an 
attempt to establish dramatic criticism as a regular inductive science. 
Tolstoy's remarkable outburst in 1906 is in a different category: 
Riimelin and Moulton protested against Shakespeare's critics, Tolstoy 
against Shakespeare himself, because his work did not square with his 
conception of art: it does not transmit the highest religious feeling, 
nor does it unite all men in one common feeling, and therefore, like 
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, it must be relegated to the rank of 
bad art. 

The last and probably the best book of the Victorian age on 
Shakespeare was A. C. Bradley 's Shakespearean Tragedy (1904): a 
study of Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, from a single 
point of view, that of dramatic appreciation. It is not an attempt, 
therefore, to treat Shakespeare as a whole, but is in the direct line of 
descent from Whately and Morgann, Hazlitt and Coleridge, and is 
also one of the masterpieces of English criticism. 

But the cold, searching wind of the new realist criticism, the first 
gust of which had been felt as early as 1864 with Riimelin's Shake- 
speare Studies by a Realist, was already freshening at the beginning 
of the new century. In 1906 appeared Lytton Strachey's essay on 
Shakespeare** Final Period in which he attacks the cosy idealism of 
Furnivall and Dowden, and their conception, built on the firm 
foundation of the chronologicalbrder of the plays, of a quiet and serene 
final period, and suggests instead a Shakespeare 'bored with people, 
bored with real life, bored, in fact, with everything except poetry 
and poetical dreams'. 

The following year was published what is perhaps the best and 
most balanced picture that we have of Shakespeare as a whole, Sir 
Walter Raleigh's Shakespeare. Raleigh turns away not only from 
Dowden's sentiment but also from the excesses of Coleridge to the 
'cool and manly utterances of Dryden, Johnson, and Pope with a 
heightened sense of the value of moderation and candour'. 

In 1910 came the first application of the new science to the study of 
Shakespeare with Dr. Ernest Jones's The (Edipus-Gomplex as an 
Explanation of Hamlefs Mystery. According to this theory Claudius 


succeeds in doing the two things that Hamlet had unconsciously 
wished to do: killed his father and married his mother, yet his power 
to act against his powerful and hated rival is paralysed by his own 
sense of guilt. In the light of modern knowledge this is an attractively 
simple explanation, though it is difficult to square with all the facts, 
and it seems unlikely to have been Shakespeare's. 

The object of the modern realist critics is to clear away the accumu- 
lations of Romantic and Victorian idealism and the mists of German 
metaphysics, and to relate Shakespeare to his real Elizabethan environ- 
ment, as for instance does Professor Stoll in The Ghosts (1907), where 
he shows that Shakespeare's ghosts were real and visible apparitions, 
revivified corpses, and not the abstractions of nineteenth-century 
philosophy. In his later publications Professor Stoll, 'the leader of 
the American and hardest-boiled of all the hard-boiled schools of 
Shakespeare criticism', maintains that we have sentimentalised Shylock, 
who was for Shakespeare and his audience an object of derision, and 
over-subtilised his criminals, who were actuated by fear and not by 
such emasculated emotions as conscience and remorse; that Falstaff, 
in spite of Morgann, was a coward, and that Hamlet is a straight- 
forward hero in an Elizabethan revenge-play who needs neither 
Goethe nor Freud to explain the mystery, for there is no mystery 
there to be explained. 

Similarly the two best known of the modern German school of 
critics, Professors Creizenach and Schiicking, are anti-romantic and 
adopt the historical method, drawing their conclusions not only from 
the plays but also from the Elizabethan scene. According to them 
Shakespeare's method was that of 'episodic intensification'; his plays 
were written to be effective on the stage, not for critical reading in 
the study, and to secure a series of effective episodes he readily sacrificed 
both the structure of the play and consistency of character. 

Professor Croce in his Ariosto^ Shakespeare^ and Corneille (1920) 
shows little respect for many of the nineteenth-century forms of 
criticism: the exclamatory, the rhetorical, the object! vistic, the 
biographical-aesthetic, the aesthetic criticism of philologists, and the 
Romantic criticism of images. He maintains that though Shakespeare 
owed much of his thought and material to Renaissance Italy, 'the 
essential point to remember is that the poetry had its origin solely in 
himself, and that it is by his poetry that Shakespeare is to be judged. 

Of recent English critics one of the best known is Mr. J. M. 
Robertson, 1 the leader of the 'disintegrators' those who reject much 
of the Folio as spurious, of whom Creizenach is another who finds 

1 The Shakespeare Canon, 1922-3-5. 


in A Midsummer Night's Dream 'the first, and indeed only complete 
work' of Shakespeare, and a supporter of Lamb's thesis that 'the plays 
of Shakespeare are less calculated for performance on a stage than those 
of almost any other dramatist whatever'. 'Not so', replies Mr. 
Granville-Barker in his Preface to Shakespeare \ Lamb was merely 
disgusted with the theatre of Kemble's day, and based his arguments 
on 'the stage of spectacle, not upon Shakespeare's.' His object, there- 
fore, is to place himself in the position of an Elizabethan, and to 
produce the plays as Shakespeare would produce them today with 
the aid of modern stage-craft. Mr. Masefield's book William Shake- 
speare (1911) is valuable, though, like much of his poetry, a curious 
mixture of toughness and sentiment. Mr. T. S. Eliot (The Sacred 
Wood^ 1920) is one of the most stimulating and original of English 
critics, and 'stimulating' is the right word to apply to Sir Arthur 
Quiller-Couch's very readable Shakespeare's Workmanship (1918). 
The Approach to Shakespeare (1930), by J. W. Mackail, another 
disintegrator, is a rounded study of Shakespeare's development, made 
possible by Furnivall's research: 'he becomes solid and continuous: 
the planes come out, the lines of growth tell, the methods manifest 
themselves'. Dr. Caroline Spurgeon's Shakespeare's Imagery (1933) 
is an original and fascinating approach to Shakespeare. It is, she 
maintains, through his imagery that a poet, to some extent uncon- 
sciously, reveals himself, and she shows how Shakespeare's images are 
drawn largely from nature and animals. Not only this, but in most 
of the plays there is a symbolic imagery which gives atmosphere and 
background, while in each tragedy there is a peculiar and dominating 
image running through it, sustaining and emphasising the emotion 
and interpreting the thought. Finally, one of the best short books 
ever written about Shakespeare is Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith's On 
Reading Shakespeare (1933). 'I am not a Shakespeare scholar', he 
begins with disarming modesty, and after adducing admirable reasons 
why we should not read Shakespeare he goes on in his incomparable 
prose and with luminous humour and urbanity to adduce still more 
admirable reasons why we must read Shakespeare, and read him again 
and again, until finally he confesses that 'if lingering too long to 
listen, spell-bound, to this voice, I too have lost my reason, it is not 
amid the shouting theorists that you shall find me, but babbling, 
among the imbecile adorers, my praise'. 



ROBERT GREENE. {Groats-worth of Wit. Sept., 1592. The reference is to 
3 Henry VI, and Greene parodies the line in that play, 
'Oh Tiger's heart wrapt in a woman's hide'.) 

There_js an vpstarJLJCtMK*. .beautified with Vgjjjj feajjjejs, that with his 
Tygers hart wrapt in^a Players hyje, supposes he is as well able to bombast 
out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute lohannes fac 
totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey. 

HENRY CHETTLE. (Epistle to Kind-Harts Dreama. Dec. 1592. Chettle 
apologises, apparently to Shakespeare, for the part he had 
taken in preparing Greene's Groatsworth of Wit for the press.) 

I am as sory as if the originall fault had beene my fault, because my selfe 
haue scene his demeanor no lesse ciuill than he exelent in the qualitie he 
professes: Besides, diuers of worship haue reported his uprightnes of dealing, 
which argues his honesty, and his facetious grace in writing, that aprooues 
his Art. 

FRANCIS MERES. (Palladis Tamia: Wits Treasury. Sept. 1598. Meres was 
a Cambridge man; he was in London 1 597-8, and later 
rector and schoolmaster at Wing, Rutland.) 

As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to Hue in Pythagoras', so the sweete 
wittic soule of Ouia 1 Hues in mellifluous & hony-tongued Shakespeare, witnes 
his Venus and Adonis, his Lucrece, his sugred Sonnets among his priuate 
friends, Sec. 

As Plautus and Seneca are accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy 
among the Latines: so Shakespeare among the English is the most excellent 
in. both kinds for the .stage; for Comedy, witnes his Gentlemen of Verona, his 
Errors, his Loue labors lost, his Loue labours wonne, his Midsummers night 
dreame, & his Merchant of Venice; for Tragedy his Richard the 2, Richard tht 
3, Henry the 4, King lohn, Titus Andronicus and his Romeo and luliet. 

As Epius Stolo said, that the Muses would speake with Plautus tongue, 
if they would speak Latin: so I say that the Muses would speak with Shake- 
ffearts fine filed phrase, if they would speake English. 



RICHARD BARNFIELD. (Poems in Divers Humors. 1598.) 

And Shakespeare thou, whose hony-flowing Vaine, 
(Pleasing the World) thy Praises doth obtaine. 
Whose Venus, and whose Lucre ce (sweete, and chaste) 
^ Thy Name in fames immortall Booke haue plac't. 
Liue euer you, at least in Fame liue euer: 
Well may the Bodye dye, but Fame dies neuer. 

JOHN WEEVER. (Epigrammes in the oldest Cut, and newest Fashion. 1 599.) 

^QJu^ Q Q&&-A&&&P&A re when I saw thine issue 

I swore Apollo got them and none other, 

Their rosie- tainted features cloth'd in tissue, 

Some heauen born goddesse said to be their mother: 

Rose-checkt Adonis with his amber tresses, 

Faire fire-hot Venus charming him to loue her, 

Chaste Lucretia virgine-like her dresses, 

Prowd lust-strung Tarquine seeking still to proue her: 

Romea Richard\ more whose names I know not, 

Their sugred tongues, and power attractiue beuty 

Say they are Saints althogh that Sts they shew not 

For thousands vowes to them subiectiue dutie: 

They Jwrn in loue thy children Shakespear het them, 

Go, wo thy Muse more Nymphish brood beget them. 

ANON. (Parnassus. A series of three plays performed at Cambridge, probably 
at Christmas 1598, 1599, 1601. a. from 2 Parnassus; b. from 3.) 

a. Gull. Not in a vaine veine (prettie, i' faith!): make mee them in 
two or three divers vayns, in Chaucer's, Gower's and Spencer's and 
Mr. Shakspeare's. Marry, I thinke I shall entertaine those verses which 
run like these; 

Even as the sunn with purple coloured face 

Had tane his last leave on the weeping morne, &c. 

O sweet Mr. Shakspeare! Pie have his picture in my study at the 
courte. . . . 

Let this duncified worlde esteem of Spencer and Chaucer, Pie 
worshipp sweet Mr. Shakspeare, and to honour him will lay his Venus 
and Adonis under my pillowe, as we reade of one . . . slept with Homer 
under his bed's heade. 

b. Kempe. Few of the vniuersity men pen plaies well, they smell too 
much of that writer Quid, and that writer Metamorphosis, and talke too 
much of Proserpina & luppiter. Why heres our fellow Shakespeare puts 


them all downe, I and Ben lonson too. O that Ben lonson is a pestilent 
fellow, he brought vp Horace giuing the Poets a pill, but our fellow 
Shakespeare hath giuen him a purge that made him beray his credit: 
Burbage. Its a shrewd fellow indeed. 

GABRIEL HARVEY. (Marginalia. 1601?) 

The younger sort takes much delight in Shakespeares Venus, & Adonis: 
but his Lucrece, & his tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, haue it in 
them, to please the wiser sort. 

ANTHONY SCOLOKER. (Epistle to Daiphantus. 1604.) 

It should be like the Neuer-too-well read Arcadia, where the Prose and 
Ferce (Matter and Words) are like his Mistresses eyes, one still excelling 
another and without Coriuall: or to come home to the vulgars Element, like 
Friendly Shakespeare's Tragedies, where the Commedian rides, when the 
Tragedian stands on Tip-toe: Faith it should please all, like Prince Hamlet. 

JOHN WEBSTER. (Epistle to The White Devil. 1612.) 

And lastly (without wrong last to be named), the right happy and copious 
industry of M. Shake-speare, M. Decker, & M. Hey wood, wishing what I 
write may be read by their light: Protesting, that, in the strength of mine 
owne iudgement, I know them so worthy, that though I rest silent in my 
owne worke, yet to most of theirs I dare (without flattery) fix that ofMartia//, 
Non norunt, Haec monumenta mori. 

THOMAS FREEMAN. (Runne and a Great Cast. 1614.) 

Shakespeare, that nimble Mercury thy braine, 

Lulls many hundred 4rgus-eyes asleepe, 

So fit, for all thou fashionest thy vaine, 

At th' horse-foote fountaine thou hast drunk full deepe, 

Vertues or vices theame to thee all one is: 

Who loues chaste life, there's Lucrece for a Teacher: 

Who list read lust there's Venus and Adonis, 

True modell of a most lasciuious leatcher. 

Besides in pkies thy wit windes like Meander. 

Whence needy new-composers borrow more 

Than Terence doth from Plautus or Menander. 

But to praise thee aright I want thy store: 

Then let thine owne works thine owne worth upraise, 
And help t' adorne thee with deserued Baies, 


WILLIAM BASSE, (c. 1620.) 

On Mr. Wm. Shakespeare 
he dyed in Aprill 1616. 

Renowned Spencer, lye a thought more nye 
To learned Chaucer, and rare Beaumont lye 
A little neerer Spenser to make roome 
For Shakespeare in your threefold fowerfold Tombe, 
To lodge all fowre in one bed make a shift 
Vntill Doomesdaye, for hardly will a fift 
Betwixt this day and that by Fate be skyne 
For whom your Curtaines may be drawn againe. 
If your precedency in death doth barre 
A fourth place in your sacred sepulcher, 
Vnder this carved marble of thine owne 
Sleepe rare Tragoedian Shakespeare, sleep alone, 
Thy vnmolested peace, vnshared Caue, 
Possesse as Lord not Tenant of thy Grave, 
That vnto us and others it may be 
Honor hereafter to be layde by thee. 

BEN JONSON. (a. From Conversations with William Drummond. 1618-19.- 
These* are notes by Drummond on his talks with Jonson, who 
set out to see him at Hawthornden in the summer of 1618. 

b. Verses on the fifth preliminary leaf to Fi, 1623. Jonson is one of the 
'Friends and guides' referred to by Heminge and Condell. 

c. From Timber: or Discoveries. Probably written after 1630 when 
Jonson was 'prest by extremities', and struggling with want and disease 'for 

a. His Censure of the English Poets was this . . . 

That Shaksperr wanted Arte. 

b. To the memory of my beloued 

The Avthor 
Mr. William Shakespeare: 

what he hath left vs. 

To draw no enuy (Shakespeare) on thy name, 

Am I thus ample to thy Booke, and Fame: 
While I confesse thy writings to be such, 

As neither Man, nor Muse, can praise too much 
'Tis true, and all mens suffrage. But these wayes 


Were not the paths I meant vnto thy praise: 
For seeliest Ignorance on these may light. 

Which) when it sounds at best, but eccho's right; 
Or blinde Affection, which doth ne're aduance 

The truth> but gropes, and vrgeth all by chance; 
Of crafty Malice, might pretend this praise, 

And thinke to ruine, where it seem'd to raise. 
These are, as some infamous Baud, or Whore, 

Should praise a Matron. What could hurt her more? 
But thou art proof e against them, and indeed 

Aboue t Kill fortune of them, or the need. 
/, therefore will begin. Soule of the Age! 

The^applause! delight! jh^w on der of ^qur. Stage! 
My Shakespeare, rise; twill not lodge thee by 

Chaucer, or Spenser, or bid Beaumont lye 
A little further, to make thee a roome: 

Thou art a Moniment^ without & Jombe, 
And art aliue still, while thy Booke doth Hue, 

And we haue wits to read, and praise to giue. 
That I not mixe thee so, my braine excuses; 

I meane with great, but disproportion V Muses: 
For, if I thought my iudgement were of yeeres, 

I should commit thee surely with thy peeres, 
And tell, how farre thou didst our Lily out-shine, 

Or sporting Kid, or Marlowes mighty line. 
And though thou hadst small Latine, and less Greeke, 

From thence to honour thee, I would not seeke 
For names; but call forth thundering -dSschilus, 

Euripides, and Sophocles to us, 
Paccuuius, Accius, him of Cordoua dead. 

To life againe, to heare thy Buskin tread, 
And shake a Stage: Or, when thy Sockes were on, 

Leaue thee alone, for the comparison 
Of all, that insolent Greece, or haughtie Rome 

Sent forth, or since did from their ashes come. 
Triumph, my Britaine, thou hast one to showe, 

To whom all scenes of Europe homage owe. 
H^J^lJfp^pf an agc>]>ufor all time! 

And all the Muses still were in their prime, 
When like Apollo he came forth to warme 

Our fares, or like a Mercury to charme! 
Nature^ her self e was proud of his designes* 

And ioy'd to we are the dressing of his liftej! 
Which were so richly spun, and wouen so fit, 

As, since, she will vouchsafe no other Wit. 
The merry Greeke, tart Aristophanes, 

Neat Terence, witty Plautus, now not pleases 


But antiquated, and deserted lye 

As they were not of Natures family. 
Yet must I not giue Nature all: Thy Art, 

My gentle Shakespeare, must enioy a part. 
FoTthougJTthe^Qtte matter, Nature be, 

His Art doth giue the fashion. And, that he, 
Who casts to write a living line, must sweat, 

(Such as thine are) and strike the second heat 
Vpon the Muses anuile: turne the same, 

(And himselfe with it) that he thinkes to frame; 
Or for the lawrell, he may gaine a scome, 

For such a good Poet's made, as well as borne. 
And such wert thou. Looke how the fathers face 

Liues in his issue, euen so, the race 
Of Shakespeares minde, and manners brightly shines 

In his well torned, and true-fled lines: 
In each of which, he seems to shake a Lance, 

As brandish' t at the eyes of Ignorance. 
Sweet Swan ofAgonl what a sight it were 

To see thee in our waters yet appeare, 
And make those flights vpon the bankes of Thames, 

That so did take Eliza and our lames! 
But stay, I see thee in the Hemisphere 

Aduanc'd, and made a Constellation there! 
Shine ford, thou Starre of Poets, and with rage, 

Or influence, chide , or cheere the drooping Stage; 
Which, since thy flight from hence, hath mourn V like night, 

And despaires day, but for thy Volumes light. 

c. I remember, the Players have often mentioned it as an honour to Shake- 
speare, that in his writing, (whatsoever he penn'd) hee never blotted out 
line. My answer hath beene, would he had blotted a thousand. Which 
they thought a malevolent speech. I had not told posterity this, but for their 
ignorance, who choose that circumstance to commend their friend by, 
wherein he most faulted. And to justifie mine own candor, (for I lov'd the 
man, and doe honour his memory (on this side Idolatry) as much as any.) 
Hee was (indeed) honest, and of an open, and free nature: had an excellent 
Phantsie-, brave notions, and gentle expressions: wherein hee flow'd with 
that facility, that sometime it was necessary he should be stop'd: Sufflimandus 
erat: as Augustus said of Haterius. His wit was in his owne power; would 
the rule of it had beene so too. Many times hee fell into those things, could 
not escape laughter: As when hee said in the person of C<e$ar, one speaking 
to him: C<esar thou dost me wrong. He replyed: C&sar did never wrong, but 
with just cause and such like: which were ridiculous. But hee redeemed his 
vices with his vertues. There was ever more in him to be praysed, then to 
be pardoned. 


JOHN HEMINGE AND HENRY CONDELL. (The editors of the First Folio, 1623. 

To the great Variety of Readers?) 

It had bene a thing, we confesse, worthie to haue been wished, that the 
Author himselfe had liu'd to haue set forth, and ouerseen his owne writings; 
But since it hath bin ordain'd otherwise, and he by death departed from 
that right, we pray you do not envie his Friends, the office of their care, and 
paine, to haue collected & publish'd them; and so to haue publish'd them, 
as where (before) you were abus'd with diuerse stolne, and surreptitious 
copies, maimed, and deformed by the frauds and stealthes of injurious 
impostors, that expos'd them: euen those, are now offer'd to your view cur'd, 
and perfect of their limbes; and all the rest, absolute in their numbers, as he 
concerned them. Who, as he was a happie imitator of Nature, was a most 
gentle expresser of it. His mind and hand went together: And what he 
thought, he vttered with that easinesse, that wee haue scarce receiued from 
him a blot in his papers. But it is not our prouince, who onely gather his 
works, and giue them you, to praise him. It is yours that reade him. And 
there we hope, to your diuers capacities, you will finde enough, both to draw, 
and hold you: for his wit can no more lie hid, then it could be lost. Reade 
him, therefore; and againe, and againe: And if then you doe not like him, 
surely you are in some manifest danger, not to vnderstand him. And so we 
leaue you to other of his Friends, whom if you need, can bee your^guidesj if 
you neede them not, you can leade your selues, and others. And such Readers 
we wish him. 

HUGH HOLLAND. (From sixth preliminary leaf to Fi, 1623. Vpon the Lines 
and Life of the Famous Scenic ke Poet, Master William 

Those hands, which you so clapt, go now, and wring 
You Britaines braue; for done are Shakespeares dayes: 
His dayes are done, that made the dainty Playes, 
Which made the Globe of heau'n and earth to ring. 
Dry'de is that veine, dry'd is the Thespian Spring, 
Turn'd all to teares, and Phoebus clouds his rayes: 
That corp's, that coffin now besticke those bayes, 
Which crown'd him Poet first, then Poets King. 
If Tragedies might any Prologue haue, 
All those he made, would scarse make one to this: 
Where Fame, now that he gone is to the graue 
(Deaths publique tyring-house) the Nuncius is. 

For though his line of life went soone about, 

The life yet of his lines shall neuer out. 



LEONARD DICGES. (From eighth preliminary leaf to Fi, 1623. To the 
Memorie of the deceased Author Maister W. Shakespeare.) 

Shake-speare, at length thy pious fellowes giue 

The world thy Workes: thy Workes, by which, out-liue 

Thy Tombe, thy name must: when that stone is rent, 

And Time dissolues thy Stratford Moniment, 

Here we aliue shall view thee still. This Booke, 

When Brasse and Marble fade, shall make thee looke 

Fresh to all Ages: when Posteritie 

Shall loath what's new, thinke all is prodegie 

That is not Shake-speares\ eu'ry Line, each Verse, 

Here shall reuiue, redeeme thee from thy Herse. 

Nor Fire, nor cankring Age, as Naso said, 

Of his, thy wit- fraught Booke shall once inuade. 

Nor shall I e're beleeue, or thinke thee dead 

(Though mist) untill our bankrout Stage be sped 

(Impossible) with some new strain t' out-do 

Passions of luliet, and her Romeo\ 

Or till I heare a Scene more nobly take, 

Then when thy half-Sword parlying Romans spake, 

Till these, till any of thy Volumes rest 

Shall with more fire, more feeling be exprest, 

Be sure, our Shake-speare y thou canst neuer dye, 

B^t crown'd with Lawrell, liue eternally. 

MICHAEL DRAYTON. (From Elegy to Henry Reynolds. 1627.) 

And be it said of thee, 

Shakespeare, thou hadst as smooth a Comicke vaine, 
Fitting the socke, and in thy naturall braine, 
As strong conception, and as Cleere a rage, 
As any one that trafiqu'd with the stage. 

JOHN MILTON. (Published in prefatory matter to the Second Folio, 1632. 
This was the first of Milton's poems to be published.) 

On Shakespear, 1630. 

What needs my Shakespear for his honour'd Bones, 

The labour of an age in piled Stones, 

Or that his hallo w'd reliques should be hid 

Under a Star-y pointing Pyramid! 

B^Oonj?i^emory, great heir pfXanip, 

What need'st thou such weak witness of thy name? 

Tho.u_ixx pjyir wonder and astonjsiunejit 


Hast built thy self a Uye-long^Monument. 
For whilst totK* shame of slow-en3eavouring art, 
Thy easie numbers flow, and that each heart 
Hath from the leaves of thy unvalu'd Book, 
Those Delphick lines with deep impression took, 
Then thou our fancy of it self bereaving, 
Dost make us Marble with too much conceaving; 
And so Sepulcher'd in such pomp dost lie, 
That Kings for such a Tomb would wish to die. 

THOMAS HEYWOOD. (From The Hierarchic of the Blessed Angels. 1635.) 

Our moderne Poets to that passe are driuen, 
Those names are curtaPd which they first had giuen; 
And, as we wisht to haue their memories drown'd, 
We scarcely can afford them halfe their sound. . . . 
Mellifluous Shake-speare* whose inchanting Quill 
Commanded Mirth or Passion, was but 

LEONARD DIGGES. (Published in John Benson's edition of Shakespeare's 
Poems i 1640.) 

Poets are borne not made, when I would prove 

This truth, the glad rememberance I must love 

Of never dying Shakespeare^ who alone, 

Is argument enough to make that one. 

First, that he was a Poet none would doubt, 

That heard th'applause of what he sees set out 

Imprinted; where thou hast (I will not say) 

Reader his Workes (for to contrive a Play 

To him twas none) the patterne of all wit, 

Art without Art unparaleld as yet. 

Next Nature onely helpt him, for looke thorow 

This whole Booke, thou shalt find he doth not borrow, 

One phrase from Greekes, nor Latines imitate, 

Nor once from vulgar Languages Translate, 

Nor Plagiari-like from others gleane, 

Nor begs he from each witty friend a Scene 

To peece his Acts with, all that he doth write, 

Is pure his owne, plot, language exquisite, 

But oh! what praise more powerfull can we give 

The dead, than that by him the Kings men live, 

His Players, which should they but have shar'd the Fate, 

All else expir'd within the short Termes date; 

How could the Globe have prospered, since through want 


Of change, the Plaies and Poems had growne scant. 

But happy Verse thou shalt be sung and heard, 

When hungry quills shall be such honour bard. 

Then vanish upstart Writers to each Stage, 

You needy Poetasters of this Age, 

Where Shakespeare liv'd or spake, Vermine forbeare, 

Least with your froth you spot them, come not neere; 

But if you needs must write, if poverty 

So pinch, that otherwise you starve and die, 

On Gods name may the Bull or Cockpit have 

Your lame blancke Verse, to keepe you from the grave: 

Or let new Fortunes younger brethren see, 

What they can picke from your leane industry. 

I doe not wonder when you offer at 

Blacke-Friers, that you suffer: tis the fate 

Of richer veines, prime judgments that have far'd 

The worse, with this deceased man compar'd. 

So have I scene, when Cesar would appeare, 

And on the Stage at halfe-sword parley were, 

Brutus and Cassius: oh how the Audience, 

Were ravish'd, with what wonder they went thence, 

When some new day they would not brooke a line, 

Of tedious (though well laboured) Catilines\ 

Sejanus too was irkesome, they priz'de more 

Honest lago, or the jealous Moore. 

And though the Fox and subtill Alchimist, 

Long intermitted could not quite be mist, 

Though these have sham'd all the Ancients, and might raise, 

Their Authors merit with a crowne of Bayes. 

Yet these sometimes, even at a friend's desire 

Acted, have scarce defraid the Seacoale fire 

And doore-keepers: when let but Falstaffe come, 

Hall, Points, the rest you scarce shall have a roome 

All is so pester'd: let but Beatrice 

And Benedicke be scene, loe in a trice 

The Cockpit Galleries, Boxes, all are full 

To heare Maluoglio that crosse garter's Gull. 

Briefe, there is nothing in his wit fraught Booke, 

Whose sound we would not heare, on whose worth looke 

Like old coynd gold, whose lines in every page, 

Shall pass true currant to succeeding age. 

But why doe I dead Shakspeares praise recite, 

Some second Shakespeare must of Shakespeare write; 

For me tis needlesse, since an host of men, 

Will pay to clap his praise, to free my Pen. 



THOMAS FULLER. (From Worthies, Warwickshire. 1662. Fuller [1608- 
1661] began collecting materials for his Worthies, possibly 
as early as 1643.) 

William Shakespeare was born at Stratford on Avon in this Country, in 
whom three eminent Poets may seem in some sort to be compounded. 

1 . Martial in the War/ike sound of his Sur-name (whence some may 
conjecture him of a Military extraction"), H as ti-vi brans, or Shake-speare. 

2. Ovid, the most natural/ and witty of all Poets, and hence it was that 
Queen Elizabeth, coming into a Grammar- School, made this extemporary 

'Persius a Crab-stafFe, Bawdy Martial, 
Ovid a fine Wag.' 

3. Plautus, who was an exact Comaedian, yet never any Scholar, as our 
Shake-speare (if alive) would confess himself. Adde to all these, that though 
his genius generally was jocular, and inclining him to festivity, yet he could 
(when so disposed) be solemn and serious, as appears by his Tragedies, so that 
Heraclitus himself (I mean if secret and unseen) might afford to smile at his 
Comedies, they were so merry, and Democritus scarce borbear to sigh at his 
Tragedies they were so moumfulL 

He was an eminent instance of the truth of that Rule, Poeta non fit, sed 
nascitur, one is not made, but born a Poet. Indeed his Learning was very 
little, so that as Cornish diamonds are not polished by any Lapidary, but are 
pointed and smoothed even as they are taken out of the Earth, so nature it self 
was all the art which was used upon him. 

MARGARET CAVENDISH, Duchess of Newcastle. (Letter C XXI 1 1, 1664.) 


I Wonder how that Person you mention in your Letter, could 
either have the Conscience, or Confidence to Dispraise Shakespear's Playes, 
as to say they were made up onely with Clowns, Fools, Watchmen, and the 
like; . . . 

Shakespear did not want Wit, to Express to the Life all Sorts of Persons, 
of what Quality, Profession, Degree, Breeding, or Birth soever; nor did he 
want Wit to Express the Divers, and Different Humours, or Natures, or 
Several Passions in Mankind; and so Well he hath Express'd in his Playes 
all Sorts of Persons, as one would think he had been Transformed into every 
one of those Persons he hath Described; and as sometimes one would think 
he was really himself the Clown or Jester he Feigns, so one would think, he 
was also the King, and Privy Counsellor; also as one would think he were 
Really the Coward he Feigns, so one would think he were the most Valiant, 
and Experienced Souldier; Who would not think he had been such a man 


as his Sir John Fa/staffl and who would not think he had been Harry the 
Fifth? & certainly Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, and Antonius, did never 
Really Act their parts Better, if so Well, as he hath Described them, and I 
believe that Antonius and Brutus did not Speak Better to the People, than 
he hath Feign'd them; nay, one would think that he had been Metamorphosed 
from a Man to a Woman, for who could Describe Cleopatra Better than he 
hath done, and many other Females of his own Creating, as Nan Page, Mrs. 
Page, Mrs. ford, the Doctors Maid, Bettrice, Mrs. Quickly, Doll Tear- 
sheet, and others, too many to Relate? and in his Tragick Vein, he Presents 
Passions so Naturally, and Misfortunes so Probably, as he Peirces the Souls 
of his Readers with such a true Sense and Feeling thereof, that it Forces 
Tears through their Eyes, and almost Perswades them, they are Really Actors, 
or at least Present at those Tragedies. Who would not Swear he had been a 
Noble Lover, that could Woo so well? and there is not any person he hath 
Described in his Book, but his Readers might think they were Well acquainted 
with them; indeed Shakespear had a Clear Judgment, a Quick Wit, a Spread- 
ing Fancy, a Subtil Observation, a Deep Apprehension, and a most Eloquent 
Elocution; truly, he was a Natural Orator, as well as a Natural Poet, and he 
was not an Orator to Speak Well only on some Subjects, as Lawyers, who 
can make Eloquent Orations at the Bar, and Plead Subtilly and Wittily in 
Law-Cases, or Divines, that can Preach Eloquent Sermons, or Dispute 
Subtilly and Wittily in Theology, but take them from that, and put them 
to other Subjects, and they will be to seek; but Shakespear^ Wit and Elo- 
quence was General, for, and upon all Subjects, he rather wanted Subjects 
for his Wit anJ'Eloquence to Work on, for which he was Forced to take 
some of his Plots out of History, where he only took the Bare Designs, the 
Wit and Language being all his Own; and so much he had above others, 
that those, who Writ after him, were Forced to Borrow of him, or rather to 
Steal from him. 

DRYDEN. (a. An Essay of Dramatick Poesie. 1668. b. Essay on the 
Dramatize Poetry of the Last Age. 1672. c. Preface to Trot /us 
and Cressida, or Truth found too late. 1679.) 

a. To begin, then, with Shakespeare. He was the man who of all modern, 
and perhaps ancient poets, had the largest and most comprehensive soul. 
All the images of Nature were still present to him, and he drew them, not 
laboriously, but luckily; when he describes any thing, you more than see it, 
you feel it too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, give him 
the greater commendation: he was naturally learned; he needed not the 
spectacles of books to read Nature; he looked inwards, and found her there. 
I cannot say he is every where alike; were he so, I should do him injury to 
compare him with the greatest of mankind. He is many times flat, insipid; 
his comic wit degenerating into clenches, his serious swelling into bombast. 
But he is always great, when some occasion is presented to him; no man can 


say he ever had a fit subject for his wit, and did not then raise himself as high 
above the rest of poets, 

Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cufressi. 

The consideration of this made Mr. Hales of Eaton say, that there was no 
subject of which any poet ever writ, but he would produce it much better 
treated of in Shakespeare; and however others are now generally preferred 
before him, yet the age wherein he lived, which had contemporaries with him 
Fletcher and Jonson, never equalled them to him in their esteem: and in the 
last King's court, when Ben's reputation was at highest, Sir John Suckling, 
and with him the greater part of the courtiers, set our Shakespeare far above 
him. . . . 

If I would compare Jonson with Shakespeare, I must acknowledge him 
the more correct poet, but Shakespeare the greater wit. Shakespeare was the 
Homer, or father of our dramatic poets; Jonson was the Virgil, the pattern 
of elaborate writing; I admire him, but I love Shakespeare. 

6. But, malice and partiality set apart, let any man, who understands 
English, read diligently the works of Shakespeare and Fletcher, and I dare 
undertake, that he will find in every page either some solecism of speech, or 
some notorious flaw in sense; and yet these men are reverenced, when we are 
not forgiven. That their wit is great, and many times their expressions noble, 
envy itself cannot deny. But the times were ignorant in which they lived. 
Poetry was then, if not in its infancy among us, at least not arrived to its 
vigour and maturity: witness the lameness of their plots; many of which, 
especially those which they writ first (for even that age refined itself in some 
measure), were made up of some ridiculous incoherent story, which in one 
play many times took up the business of an age. I suppose I need not name 
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, nor the historical plays of Shakespeare: besides many 
of the rest, as the Winter's Tale, Love's Labour Lost, Measure for Measure, 
which were either grounded on impossibilities, or at least so meanly written, 
that the comedy neither caused your mirth, nor the serious part your con- 
cernment. . . . 

Shakespeare, who many times has written better than any poet, in any 
language, is yet so far from writing wit always, or expressing that wit accord- 
ing to the dignity of the subject, that he writes, in many places, below the 
dullest writer of ours, or any precedent age. Never did any author precipitate 
himself from such height of thought to so low expressions, as he often does. 
He is the very Janus of poets; he wears almost everywhere two faces; and you 
have scarce begun to admire the one, ere you despise the other. 

c. If Shakespeare be allowed, as I think he must, to have made his char- 
acters distinct, it will easily be inferred that he understood the nature of the 
passions: because it has been proved already that confused passions make 
undistinguishable characters: yet I cannot deny that he has his failings; but 
they are not so much in the passions themselves, as in his manner of ex- 


pression: he often obscures his meaning by his words, and sometimes makes 
it unintelligible. I will not say of so great a poet, that he distinguished not 
the blown puffy style from true sublimity; but I may venture to maintain, 
that the fury of his fancy often transported him beyond the bounds of judg- 
ment, either in coining of new words and phrases, or racking words which 
were in use, into the violence of a catachresis. It is not that I Would explode 
the use of metaphors from passion, for Longinus thinks 'em necessary to raise 
it: but to use 'em at every word, to say nothing without a metaphor, a simile, 
an image, or description, is, I doubt, to smell a little too strongly of the 
buskin. I must be forced to give an example of expressing passion figura- 
tively; but that I may do it with respect to Shakespeare, it shall not be taken 
from anything of his: 'tis an exclamation against Fortune, quoted in his 
Hamlet but written by some other poet 1 

Out, out, thou strumpet, Fortune! all you gods, 
In general synod, take away her power; 
Break all the spokes and felleys from her wheel, 
And bowl the round nave down the hill of Heav'n, 
As low as to the fiends. 

And immediately after, speaking of Hecuha, when Priam was killed before 
her eyes 

The mobbled queen 
Threatning the flame, ran up and down 
With*bisson rheum; a clout upon that head 
Where late the diadem stood; and for a robe, 
About her lank and all o'er-teemed loins, 
A blanket in th'alarm of fear caught up. 
Who this had seen, with tongue in venom steep'd 
'Gainst Fortune's state would treason have pronounced- 
But if the gods themselves did see her then, 
When she saw Pyrrhus make malicious sport 
In mincing with his sword her husband's limbs, 
The instant burst of clamour that she made 
(Unless things mortal move them not at all) 
Would have made milch the burning eyes of heaven, 
And passion in the gods. 

What a pudder is here kept in raising the expression of trifling thoughts! 
Would not a man have thought that the poet had been bound prentice to a 
wheelwright, for his first rant? and had followed a ragman, for the clout and 
blanket in the second? Fortune is painted on a wheel, and therefore the 
writer, in a rage, will have poetical justice done upon every member of that 
engine: after this execution, he bowls the nave down-hill, from Heaven, to 
the fiends (an unreasonable long mark, a man would think); 'tis well there 
are no solid orbs to stop it in the way, or no element of fire to consume it: 

1 Dryden was probably wrong here. Ai far as we know Shakespeare wrote the passage, 
but in the earlier rhetorical ttyle of Marlowe as a contrast to hii own vene in Hamlet. 


but when it came to the earth, it must be monstrous heavy, to break ground 
as low as the centre. His making milch the burning eyes of heaven was a 
pretty tolerable flight too: and I think no man ever drew milk out of eyes 
before him: yet, to make the wonder greater, these eyes were burning. Such 
a sight indeed were enough to have raised passion in the gods; but to excuse 
the effects of it, he tells you, perhaps they did not see it. Wise men would be 
glad to find a little sense couched under all these pompous words; for bombast 
is commonly the delight of that audience which loves Poetry, but understands 
it not: and as commonly has been the practice of those writers, who, not 
being able to infuse a natural passion into the mind, have made it their busi- 
ness to ply the ears, and to stun their judges by the noise. 

But Shakespeare does not often thus; for the passions in his scene between 
Brutus and Cassius are extremely natural, the thoughts are such as arise from 
the matter, the expression of 'em not viciously figurative. I cannot leave this 
subject, before I do justice to that divine poet, by giving you one of his 
passionate descriptions: 'tis of Richard the Second when he was deposed, and 
led in triumph through the streets of London by Henry of Bullingbrook: 
the painting of it is so lively, and the words so moving, that I have scarce read 
anything comparable to it in any other language. Suppose you have seen 
already the fortunate usurper passing through the crowd, and followed by the 
shouts and acclamations of the people; and now behold King Richard entering 
upon the scene: consider the wretchedness of his condition, and his carriage 
in it; and refrain from pity if you can 

As in a theatre, the eyes of men, 

After a well-graced actor leaves the stage, 

Are idly bent on him that enters next, 

Thinking his prattle to be tedious: 

Even so, or with much more contempt, men's eyes 

Did scowl on Richard: no man cried, God save him: 

No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home. 

But dust was thrown upon his sacred head, 

Which with such gentle sorrow he shook off, 

His face still combating with tears and smiles 

(The badges of his grief and patience), 

That had not God (for some strong purpose) steePd 

The hearts of men, they must perforce have melted, 

And barbarism itself have pitied him. 

To speak justly of this whole matter: 'tis neither height of thought that is 
discommended, nor pathetic vehemence, nor any nobleness of expression in 
its proper place; but 'tis a false measure of all these, something which is like 
them; 'tis the Bristol-stone, which appears like a diamond; 'tis an extravagant 
thought, instead of a sublime one; 'tis roaring madness, instead of vehemence; 
and a sound of words instead of sense. If Shakespeare were stripped of all the 
bombasts in his passions, and dressed in the most vulgar words, we should 
find the beauties of his thoughts remaining; if his embroideries were burnt 
down, there would still be silver at the bottom of the melting-pot: but I fear 


(at least let me fear it for myself) that we, who ape his sounding words, have 
nothing of his thought, but are all outside; there is not so much as a dwarf 
within our giant's clothes. Therefore, let not Shakespeare suffer for our 
sakes; 'tis our fault, who succeed him in an age which is more refined, if we 
imitate him so ill, that we copy his failings only, and make a virtue of that in 
our writings which in him was an imperfection. 

For what remains, the excellency of that poet was, as I have said, in the 
more manly passions; Fletcher's in the softer: Shakespeare writ better betwixt 
man and man; Fletcher betwixt man and woman: consequently, the one 
described friendship better; the other love: yet Shakespeare taught Fletcher 
to write love: and Juliet and Desdemona are originals. 'Tis true, the scholar 
had the softer soul; but the master had the kinder. Friendship is both a virtue 
and a passion essentially; love is a passion only in its nature, and is not a virtue 
but by accident: good nature makes friendship; but effeminacy love, Shake- 
speare had an universal mind, which comprehended all characters and 
'passions; Fletcher a more confined and limited: for though he treated love in 
perfection, yet honour, ambition, revenge, and generally all the stronger 
passions, he either touched not, or not masterly. To conclude all, he was a 
limb of Shakespeare. 

EDWARD PHILLIPS. (Theatrum Poetarum. 1675. Phillips was Milton's 

Skakespear, in spite of all his unfiled expressions, his rambling and indigested 
Fancys, the laughter of the Critical, yet must be confess't a Poet above many 
that go beyond him in Literature some degrees. . . . 

William Shakespear, the Glory of the English Stage; whose nativity at 
Stratford upon Avon, is the highest honour that Town can boast of: from an 
Actor of Tragedies and Comedies, he became a Maker; and such a Maker, 
that though some others may perhaps pretend to a more exact Decorum and 
(economic, especially in Tragedy, never any express't a more lofty and Tragic 
heighth; never any represented nature more purely to the life, and where the 
polishments of Art are most wanting, as probably his Learning was not extra- 
ordinary, he pleaseth with a certain wild and native Elegance; and in all his 
Writings hath an unvulgar style, as well in his Venus and Adonis, his Rape of 
Lucrece and other various Poems, as in his Dramatics. 

THOMAS RYMER. (A Short View of Tragedy. 1693.) 

What Reformation may not we expect now, that in France they see the 
necessity of a Chorus to their Tragedies? Boyer, and Racine, both of the Royal 
Academy, have led the Dance; they have tried the success in the last Plays 
that were Presented by them. 

The Chorus was the root and original, and is certainly always the most 
necessary part of Tragedy. 


The Spectators thereby are secured, that their Poet shall not juggle, or put 
upon them in the matter of Place, and Time, other than is just and reasonable 
for the representation. 

And the Poet has this benefit; the Chorus is a goodly Show, so that he need 
not ramble from his Subject out of his Wits for some foreign Toy or Hobby- 
horse, to humor the multitude. . . . 

Gorboduck is a fable, doubtless, better turn'd for Tragedy, than any on this 
side the Alps in his time; and might have been a better direction to Shakespear 
and Ben. Johnson than any guide they have had the luck to follow. 

It is objected by our Neighbours against the English, that we delight in 
bloody spectacles. Our Poets who have not imitated Gorboduck in the regu- 
larity and roundness of the design, have not failed on the Theatre to give us 
the atrocitt and blood enough in all Conscience. From this time Dramatick 
Poetry began to thrive with us, and flourish wonderfully. The French 
confess they had nothing in this kind considerable till 1635, tnat tne Academy 
Royal was founded. Long before which time we had from Shake spear, 
Fletcher, and Ben. Johnson whole Volumes; at this day in possession of the 
Stage, and acted with greater applause than ever. Yet after all, I fear what 
Quinti/ian pronounced concerning the Roman Comedy, may as justly be said 
of English Tragedy: In Tragedy we come short extreamly; hardly have we a 
slender shadow of it. ... 

Shakespears genius lay for Comedy and Humour. In Tragedy he appears 
quite out of his Element; his Brains are turn'd, he raves and rambles, without] 
any coherence, any spark of reason, or any rule to controul him, or set bounds! 
to his phrenzy. His imagination was still running after his Masters, the 
Coblers, and Parish Clerks, and Old Testament Stroulers. So he might make 
bold with Portia, as they had done with the Virgin Mary. Who, in a Church 
Acting their Pky call'd The Incarnation, had usually the Ave Mary mumbl'd 
over to a stradling wench (for the blessed Virgin) straw-hatted, blew-apron'd, 
big- bellied, with her Immaculate Conception up to her chin. 

NICHOLAS ROWE. (Preface to his edition of Shakespeare. 1709.) 

His plays are properly to be distinguished only into Comedies and 
Tragedies. Those which are called Histories, and even some of his Comedies, 
are really Tragedies, with a run or Mixture of Comedy amongst 'em. The 
way of Tragi-Comedy was the common mistake of that age, and is indeed 
become so agreeable to the English taste, that tho* the severer critics among 
us cannot bear it, yet the generality of our audiences seem to be better pleased 
with it than with an exact Tragedy. . . . 

The style of his Comedy is, in general, natural to the characters, and easy 
in itself; and the wit most commonly sprightly and pleasing, except in those 
places where he runs into dogrel rhymes, as in the Comedy of Errors, and a 


passage or two in some other plays. As for his jingling sometimes, and playing 
upon words, it was the common vice of the age he lived in: and if we find it 
in the pulpit, perhaps it may not be thought too light for the stage. 

But certainly the greatness of this author's Genius does no where so much 
appear, as where he gives his imagination an entire loose, and raises his fancy 
to a flight above mankind and the limits of the visible world. Such are his 
attempts in The Tempest, Midsummer Nigh f s Dream, Macbeth and Hamlet 

If one undertook to examine the greatest part of these (the Tragedies) by 
those rules which are established by Aristotle, and taken from the model of 
the Grecian stage, it would be no very hard task to find a great many faults: 
but as Shakespeare lived under a kind of mere Light of Nature, and had 
never been made acquainted with the regularity of those written precepts, so 
it would be hard to judge him by a law he knew nothing of. We are to con- 
sider him as a man that lived in, a state of almost universal license and ignor- 
ance: there was no established judge, but everyone took the liberty to write 
according to the dictates of his own fancy. When one considers, that there 
is not one play before him of a reputation good enough to entitle it to an 
appearance on the present stage, it cannot but be a matter of great wonder 
that he should advance dramatic poetry as far as he did. 

ADDISON. (The Spectator, 592. 1714.) 

Our critics do not seem sensible that there is more beauty in the works of 
a-great genius who is ignorant of the rules of art, than in those of a little genius 
who knows and observes them. . . . Our inimitable Shakespeare is a stum- 
bling-block to the whole tribe of these rigid critics. Who would not rather 
read one of his plays, where there is not a single rule of the stage observed, 
than any production of a modern critic, where there is not one of them 
violated? Shakespear was indeed born with all the seeds of poetry, and mayj 
be compared to the stone in Pyrrhus's ring, which, as Pliny tells us, had the 
figure of Apollo and the Nine Muses in the veins of it, produced by the!* 
spontaneous hand of Nature, without any help from Art. 

POPE. (a. Preface to his edition of Shakespeare. 1725. b. Epistle to 
Augustus. 1737.) 

a. If ever any author deserved the name of an Original, it was Shakespear. 
. . . The poetry of Shakespear was inspiration indeed: he is not so much an 
imitator, as an instrument, of Nature; and 'tis not so just to say that he speaks 
from her, as that she speaks thro* him. 

His Characters are so much Nature her self, that 'tis a sort of injury to 
call them by so distant a name as copies of her. Those of other poets have a 
constant resemblance, which shews that they received them from one another, 
and were but multipliers of the same image: each picture like a mock-rainbow 
is but the reflexion of a reflexion. But every single character in Shakespear 


is as much an individual, as those in life itself; it is as impossible to find any 
two alike; and such as from their relation or affinity in any respect appear 
most to be twins, will upon comparison be found remarkably distinct. To 
this life and variety of character, we must add the wonderful preservation 
of it; which is such throughout his pkys, that had all the speeches been 
printed without the very names of the persons, I believe one might have 
applied them with certainty to every speaker. 

The Power over our Passions was never possessed in a more eminent 
degree, or displayed in so different instances. Yet all along, there is seen no 
labour, no pains to raise them; no preparation to guide our guess to the effect, 
or be perceived to lead towards it: but the heart swells, and the tears burst 
out, just at the proper places: we are surprised, the moment we weep; and 
yet upon reflection find the passion so just, that we should be surprised if we 
had not wept, and wept at that very moment. 

How astonishing is it again, that the passions directly opposite to these, 
Laughter and Spleen, are no less at his command! that he is not more a master 
of the Great, than of the Ridiculous in human nature; of our noblest tender- 
nesses, than of our vainest foibles; of our strongest emotions, than of our 
idlest sensations! 

Nor does he only excel in the Passions: in the coolness of Reflection and 
Reasoning he is full as admirable. His Sentiments are not only in general the 
most pertinent and judicious upon every subject; but by a talent very peculiar, 
something between Penetration and Felicity, he hits upon that particular 
point on which the bent of each argument turns, or the force of each motive 
depends. This is perfectly amazing, from a man of no education or experience 
in those great and public scenes of life which are usually the subject of his 
thoughts: so that he seems to have known the world by intuition, to have 
looked through human nature at one glance, and to be the only author that 
gives ground for a very new opinion, that the Philosopher and even the Man 
of the world, may be Bom, as well as the Poet. 

It must be owned that with all these great excellencies, he has almost as 
great defects; and that as he has certainly written better, so he has perhaps 
written worse, than any other. But I think I can in some measure account 
for these defects, from several causes and accidents; without which it is hard 
to imagine that so large and so enlightened a mind could ever have been 
susceptible of them. . . . 

Not only the common audience had no notion of the rules of writing, but 
few even of the better sort piqued themselves upon any great degree of 
knowledge or nicety that way. . . . To judge therefore of Shakespear by 
Aristotle's rules, is like trying a man by the laws of one country, who acted 
under those of another. He writ to the People\ and writ at first without 
patronage from the better sort, and therefore without aims of pleasing them: 
without assistance or advice from the learned, as without the advantage of 
education or acquaintance among them; without that knowledge of the best 
models, the Ancients, to inspire him with an emulation of them; in a word, 
without any views of reputation, and of what poets are pleased to call im- 


Yet it must be observed, that when his performances had merited the 
protection of his Prince, and when the encouragement of the Court had 
succeeded to that of the Town; the works of his riper years are manifestly 
raised above those of his former. The dates of his plays sufficiently evidence 
that his productions improved, in proportion to the respect he had for his 
auditors. . . . 

Another cause (and no less strong than the former) may be deduced from 
our author's being a player, and forming himself first upon the judgments of 
that body of men whereof he was a member. They have ever had a standard 
to themselves, upon other principles than those of Aristotle. As they live by 
the majority, they know no rule but that of pleasing the present humour, and 
complying with the wit in fashion; a consideration which brings all their 
judgment to a short point. Players are just such judges of what is right, as 
taylors are of what is graceful. And in this view it will be but fair to allow, 
that most of our author's faults are less to be ascribed to his wrong judgment 
as a Poet, than to his right judgment as a Player. . . . 

As to a wrong choice of the subject, a wrong conduct of the incidents, 
false thoughts, forced expressions, &c. if these are not to be ascribed to the 
foresaid accidental reasons, they must be charged upon the poet himself, and 
there is no help for it. But I think the two disadvantages which I have men- 
tioned (to be obliged to please the lowest of people, and to keep the worst 
of company) if the consideration be extended as far as it reasonably may, will 
appear sufficient to mis-lead and depress the greatest genius upon earth. 

But as to his Wfpnt of Learning, it may be necessary to say something more: 
there is certainly a vast difference between Learning and Languages. How 
far he was ignorant of the latter, I cannot determine; but 'tis plain he had 
much Reading at least, if they will not call it Learning. Nor is it any great 
matter, if a man has Knowledge, whether he has it from one language or from 
another. . . . 

I am inclined to think this opinion proceeded originally from the zeal of 
the partisans of our author and Ben Jonson; as they endeavoured to exalt the 
one at the expense of the other. It is ever the nature of parties to be in ex- 
tremes; and nothing is so probable, as that because Ben Jonson had much 
the most learning, it was said on the one hand that Shakespear had none at 
all; and because Shakespear had much the most wit and fancy, it was retorted 
on the other, that Jonson wanted both. . . . 

I will conclude by saying of Shakespear, that with all his faults, and with 
all the irregularity of his Drama, one may look upon his works, in comparison 
of those that are more finished and regular, as upon an ancient majestic piece 
of Gothic architecture, compared with a neat modern building: the latter is 
more elegant and glaring, but the former is more strong and more solemn. 
It must be allowed, that in one of these there are materials enough to make 
many of the other. It has much the greater variety, and much the nobler 
apartments; tho* we are often conducted to them by dark, odd, and uncouth 
passages. Nor does the Whole fail to strike us with greater reverence, tho* 
many of the Parts are childish, ill-placed, and unequal to its grandeur. 


avec un grand succes. Le temps, qui seul fait k reputation des homines, 
rend & la fin leurs deTauts respectables. La phi part des ide*es bizarres et 
gigantesques de cet auteur ont acquis au bout de deux cents ans le droit de 
passer pour sublimes; les auteurs modernes Font presque tous copie*; mais ce 
qui re*ussissait chez Shakespeare est siffle chez eux, et vous croyez bien que 
la veneration qu'on a pour cet ancien augmente a mesure que Ton m^prise 
les modernes. On ne fait pas reflexion qu'il ne faudrait pas 1'imiter, et le 
mauvais succes de ses copistes fait seulement qu'on le croit inimitable. 

Vous savez que dans la trage*die du More de Venise, piece tres touchante, 
un mari Strangle sa femme sur le theatre, et quand la pauvre femme est 
etrangle*e, elle s' eerie qu'elle meurt tres injustement. Vous n'ignorez pas 
que dans Hamlet des fossoyeurs creusent une fosse en buvant, en chantant 
des vaudevilles, et en faisant sur les tetes des morts qu'ils rencontrent des 
plaisanteries convenables a gens de leur metier. Mais ce qui vous surprendra, 
c'est qu'on a imite ces sottises sous le r&gne de Charles Second, qui etait 
celui de la politesse et I'&ge d'or des beaux-arts. 

Otway, dans sa Venise sauvte, introduit le Se'nateur Antonio et la courti- 
sane Naki au milieu des horreurs de la conspiration du Marquis de Bed mar. 
Le vieux Senateur Antonio fait aupres de sa courtisane toutes les singeries 
d'un vieux d^bauche* impuissant et hors du bon sens; il contrefait le taureau 
et le chien, il mord les jambes de sa maitresse, qui lui donne des coups de 
pied et des coups de fouet. On a retranche* de k piece d'Otway ces bouffon- 
neries, faites pour k plus vile canaille; mais on a laisse* dans le Jules Cfsar 
de Shakespeare les plaisanteries des cordonniers et des savetiers romains 
introduits sur la scene avec Brutus et Cassius. C'est que la sottise d'Otway 
est moderne, et que celle de Shakespeare est ancienne. . . . 

C'est dans ces morceaux detaches que les tragiques Anglais ont jusqu'ici 
excelle*; leurs pieces, presque toutes barbares, depourvues de bienseance, 
d'ordre, de vraisembknce, ont des lueurs etonnantes au milieu de cette nuit. 
Le style est trop ampoule, trop hors de la nature, trop copie des ecrivains 
hebreux si remplis de 1'enflure asiatique; mais aussi il faut avouer que les 
echasses du style figure, sur lesquelles la langue angkise est guindee, ei&vent 
aussi 1'esprit bien haut, quoique par une marche irreguliere. 

Le premier Anglais qui ait fait une piece raisonnable et ecrite d'un bout a 
J'autre avec elegance est Pillustre M. Addison. Son Caton tFUtlque est un 
chef-d'oeuvre pour la diction et pour la beaute des vers. Le rdle de Caton 
est a mon gre fort au-dessus de celui de Corneiie dans le Pompte de Corneille; 
car Caton est grand sans enflure, et Corneiie, qui d'ailleurs n'est pas un 
personnage necessaire, vise quelquefois au galimatias. Le Caton de M. 
Addison me paraft le plus beau personnage qui soit sur aucun theitre, mais 
les autres r61es de la piece n'y repondent pas, et cet ouvrage si bien ecrit est 
defigure par une intrigue froide d'amour, qui repand sur k piece une lan- 
gueur qui la tue. 

La coutume d'introduire de 1'amour a tort et a travers dans les ouvrages 
dramatiques passa de Paris a Londres vers 1'an 1660 avec nos rubans et nos 
perruques. Les femmes, qui parent les spectacles, comme ici, ne veulent 
plus souffrir qu'on leur parle d'autre chose que d'amour. Le sage Addison 


cut la molle complaisance de plier k sprite* de son caractere aux mccurs 
de son temps, et gtta un chef d'ceuvre pour avoir voulu plaire. 

Depuis lui, les pieces sont devenues plus rguli&res, le peuple plus difficile, 
les auteurs plus corrects et moins hardis. J'ai vu des pieces nouvelles fort 
sages, mais froides. II semble que les Anglais n'aient e*te* faits jusqu'ici que 
pour produire des beaute*s irrgulieres. Les monstres brillants de Shake- 
speare plaisent mille fois plus que la sagesse moderne. Le genie po^tique 
des Anglais ressemble jusqu'a present k un arbre touffu plante* par la nature, 
jetant au hasard mille rameaux, et croissant ingalement et avec force; il 
meurt, si vous voulez forcer sa nature et le tailler en arbre des jardins de 

b. Vous avez presque fait accroire a votre nation que je me*prise Shake- 
speare. . . . J'avais dit que son g&iie &ait h lui, et que ses fautes etaient a 
son stecle. C'est une belle nature, mais bien sauvage; nulle r^gularite*, nulle 
biens^ance, nul art, de la bassesse avec de la grandeur, de la boufFonnerie 
avec du terrible; c'est le chaos de la tragedie, dans lequel il y a cent traits 
de lumiere. 

MAURICE MORGANN. (On the Dramatic Character of Sir John Fa/staff. 

Yet whatever may be the neglect of some, or the censure of others, there 
are those, who firmly believe that this wild, this uncultivated Barbarian, has 
not yet obtained one half of his fame; and who trust that some new Stagyrite 
will arise, who instead of pecking at the surface of things will enter into the 
inward soul of his compositions, and expel by the force of congenial feelings, 
those foreign impurities which have stained and disgraced his page. And as 
to those spots which will still remain, they may perhaps become invisible to 
those who shall seek them through the medium of his beauties, instead of 
looking for those beauties, as is too frequently done, through the smoke of 
some real or imputed obscurity. When the hand of time shall have brushed 
off his present Editors and Commentators, and when the very name of 
Poltaire, and even the memory of the language in which he has written, 
shall be no more, the Apalachian mountains, the banks of the Ohio, and the 
plains of Sciota shall resound with the accents of this Barbarian: in his native 
tongue he shall roll the genuine passions of nature; nor shall the griefs of 
Lear be alleviated, or the charms and wit of Rosalind be abated by time. 
There is indeed nothing perishable about him, except that very learning 
which he is said so much to want. He had not, it is true, enough for the 
demands of the age in which he lived, but he had perhaps too much for the 
reach of his genius, and the interest of his fame. Milton and he will carry 
the decayed remnants and fripperies of ancient mythology into more distant 
ages than they are by their own force intitled to extend; and the metamor- 
phoses of Ovid, upheld by them, lay in a new claim to unmerited immortality. 
Shakespeare is a name so interesting, that it is excusable to sjop a moment, 


nay it would be indecent to pass him without the tribute of some admiration. 
He differs essentially from all other writers: him we may profess rather to 
feel than to understand; and it is safer to say, on many occasions, that we are 
possessed by him, than that we possess him. And no wonder; he scatters 
the seeds of things, the principles of character and action, with so cunning a 
hand yet with so careless an air, and, master of our feelings, submits himself 
so little to our judgment, that every thing seems superior. We discern not his 
course, we see no connection of cause and effect, we are rapt in ignorant 
admiration, and claim no kindred with his abilities. All the incidents, all the 
parts, look like chance, whilst we feel and are sensible that the whole is 
design. His characters not only act and speak in strict conformity to nature, 
but in strict relation to us; just so much is shown as is requisite, just so much 
is impressed; he commands every passage to our heads and to our hearts, and 
moulds us as he pleases, and that with so much ease, that he never betrays 
his own exertions. We see these characters act from the mingled motives of 
passion, reason, interest, habit and complection, in all their proportions, when 
they are supposed to know it not themselves; and we are made to acknowledge 
that their actions and sentiments are, from those motives, the necessary result. 
He at once blends and distinguishes every thing; every thing is complicated, 
every thing is plain. I restrain the further expressions of my admiration lest 
they should not seem applicable to man; but it is really astonishing that a 
mere human being, a part of humanity only, should so perfectly comprehend 
the whole; and that he should possess such exquisite art, that whilst every 
woman and every child shall feel the whole effect, his learned Editors and 
Commentators should yet so very frequently mistake or seem ignorant of the 
cause. A sceptre or a straw are in his hands of equal efficacy; he needs no 
selection; he converts everything into excellence; nothing is too great, nothing 
is too base. Is a character efficient like Richard, it is every thing we can wish: 
is it otherwise, like Hamlet, it is productive of equal admiration; action pro- 
duces one mode of excellence and inaction another: the Chronicle, the Novel, 
or the Ballad; the king, or the beggar, the hero, the madman, the sot or the 
fool; it is all one; nothing is worse, nothing is better: the same genius per- 
vades and is equally admirable in all. Or, is a character to be shown in pro- 
gressive change, and the events of years comprized within the hour; with 
what a Magic hand does he prepare and scatter his spells! The Understanding 
must, in the first place be subdued; and lo! how the rooted prejudices of the 
child spring up to confound the man! The Weird sisters rise, and order is 
extinguished. The laws of nature give way, and leave nothing in our minds 
but wildness and horror. No pause is allowed us for reflection: horrid senti- 
ment, furious guilt and compunction, air-drawn daggers, murders, ghosts, 
and inchantment, shake and possess us wholly. In the meantime the process is 
completed. Macbeth changes under our eye, the milk of human kindness is 
converted to gall; he has supped full of horrors, and his May of Jiff is fallen into 
the sear, the ye How leaf; whilst we, the fools of amazement, are insensible to the 
shifting of place and the lapse of time, and till the curtain drops, never once 
wake to the truth of things, or recognize the laws of existence. On such an 
occasion, a fellow, like Rymer, waking from his trance, shall lift up his Con- 


stable's staff, and charge this great Magician, this daring practicer of ant 
inhibited, in the name of Aristotle, to surrender; whilst Aristotle himself, dis- 
owning his wretched Officer, would fall prostrate at his feet and acknowledge 
his supremacy. O supreme of Dramatic excellence! (might he say,) not to me 
be imputed the insolence of fools. The bards of Greece were confined within 
the narrow circle of the Chorus, and hence they found themselves con- 
strained to practise, for the most part, the precision, and copy the details of 
nature. I followed them, and knew not that a larger circle might be drawn, 
and the Drama extended to the whole reach of human genius. Convinced, I 
see that a more compendious nature may be obtained; a nature of effects only, 
to which neither the relations of place, or continuity of time, are always 
essential. Nature, condescending to the faculties and apprehensions of man, 
has drawn through human life a regular chain of visible causes and effects: 
but Poetry delights in surprise, conceals her steps, seizes at once upon the 
heart, and obtains the Sublime of things without betraying the rounds of her 
ascent: true Poesy is magic, not nature\ an effect from causes hidden or un- 
known. To the Magician I prescribed no laws; his law and his power are 
one; his power is his law. Him, who neither imitates, nor is within the reach 
of imitation, no precedent can or ought to bind, no limits to contain. If his 
end is obtained, who shall question his course? Means, whether apparent or 
hidden, are justified in poesy by success; but then most perfect and most 
admirable when most concealed. 

The reader must be sensible of something in the composition of Shake- 
speare's characters, which renders them essentially different from those drawn 
by other writers? The characters of every Drama must indeed be grouped; 
but in the groups of other poets the parts which are not seen, do not in fact 
exist. But there is a certain roundness and integrity in the forms of Shake- 
speare, which give them an independence as well as a relation, insomuch that 
we often meet with passages, which though perfectly felt, cannot be suffi- 
ciently explained in words, without unfolding the whole character of the 

GEORGE III. (Diary of Madame D'Arblay. 1785.) 

Was there ever such stuff as great part of Shakspeare? only one must not 
say so! But what think you? What? Is there not sad stuff? What? What? 

I know it is not to be said! but it's true. Only it's Shakespeare, and nobody 
dare abuse him.' 


GERVINUS. (Shakespeare Commentaries. 1850. This passage is quoted 
here as it serves as an admirable introduction to German 
Romantic criticism.) 


The man who first valued Shakespeare according to his full desert was 
indisputably Lessing. One single passage, where, in his 'Dramaturgic', he 
speaks of Romeo and Juliet, shows pkinly that he apprehended his plays in 
their innermost nature, and this with the same unbiassed mind with which 
the poet wrote them. With all the force of a true taste, he pointed to Wieland's 
translation of the English dramatist, when scarcely anyone in Germany knew 
him. Not long before Shakespeare had been seriously compared amongst us 
with Gryphius; now Lessing appeared and discovered in the great tragic poet 
an accordance with the highest pretensions of Aristotle. The English editors 
and expositors of his works were yet under the Gallic yoke, when Lessing 
cast aside the French taste and the opinion of Voltaire, and with one stroke 
so transformed the age, that we now ridiculed the false sublimity of the 
French drama, as they had formerly laughed at English barbarism. Lessing' s 
recommendation of the English poet was closely followed by Eschenburg's 
translation, and a completely altered taste among our young dramatists. A 
rude counterpoise to the exaggerations of French conventionality appeared 
for the moment necessary, in order to restore the even balance of judgment. 
In Goethe's youthful circle in Strasburg they spoke in Shakespeare's puns, 
jokes, and pleasantries; they wrote in his tone and style; they exhibited all the 
coarseness and nakedness of nature in contrast to French gloss and varnish, 
and felt themselves, from identity of character, as much at home with the 
Germanic nature of Shakespeare as with Hans Sachs. . . . 

The distortion and extravagance of their early opinions passed in time 
from the minds of these men, who as poets and critics were equally prepared 
to take a wholly different view of the study of Shakespeare to that of the 
English commentators of old; the poet for the first time stands before us in 
the unassuming truth of nature. In 'Wilhelm Meister' Goethe produced that 
characteristic of Hamlet, which is like a key to all works of the poet; here all 
separate beauties are rejected, and the whole is explained by the whole, and 
we feel the soul of the outer frame-work and its animating breath, which 
created and organised the immortal work. . . . 

While the Englishman lingered perhaps over isolated passages, we, on the 
contrary, destitute of all explanations, read rapidly on; we were careless about 
parts, and compared to the English reader we lost many separate beauties 
and ideas, but we enjoyed the whole more fully. For this enjoyment we were 
chiefly indebted to the translation of A. W. Schiegel, which even Englishmen 
read with admiration. . . . More than any other effort on behalf of the 
English poet, this translation has made him our own. Admiration reached a 
fresh point. And this rather with us than in England. . . . 

However great were the merits of our Romanticists in having arranged 
Shakespeare's works for our enjoyment, even they have only slightly con- 
tributed to the inner understanding after which we seek, and to the unfolding 
of the human nature of the poet and the general value of his works. In A. W. 
SchlegePs 'Dramatic Lectures' the plays are singly discussed. All here testifies 
to poetic delicacy and sensibility; all is fair, alluring, inspiring a panegyric 
of a totally different kind to the criticising characteristics of the English 
expositors. . . . 


From 1811 to 1812 Coleridge had held lectures upon Shakespeare, so 
much in Schlegel's mind and manner, that a dispute arose as to the priority 
of merit of the two aesthetic philosophers. . . . He advanced the assertion 
then a bold one in England that not merely the splendour of different parts 
constituted the greatness of Shakespeare, by compensating for the barbarous 
shapelessness of the whole, but that he considered the aesthetic form of the 
whole equally admirable with the matter, and the judgment of the great poet 
not less deserving our wonder than his innate genius. 

LESSING. (Hamburgtsche Dramaturgic. 1767.) 

Love itself dictated 'Zaire* to Voltaire! said a polite art critic. He would 
have been nearer the truth had he said gallantry; I know but one tragedy at 
which love itself has laboured and that is 'Romeo and Juliet' by Shakespeare. 
It is incontestable, that Voltaire makes his enamoured Zaire express her 
feelings with much nicety and decorum. But what is this expression com- 
pared with that living picture of all the smallest, most secret, artifices whereby 
love steals into our souls, all the imperceptible advantages it gains thereby, 
all the subterfuges with which it manages to supersede every other passion 
until it succeeds in holding the post of sole tyrant of our desires and aversions? 
Voltaire perfectly understands the so to speak official language of love; 
that is to say the language and the tone love employs when it desires to express 
itself with caution and dignity, when it would say nothing but what the 
prudish female* sophist and the cold critic can justify. Still even the most 
efficient government clerk does not always know the most about the secrets 
of his government; or else if Voltaire had the same deep insight as Shake- 
speare into the essence of love, he would not exhibit it here, and therefore 
the poem has remained beneath the capacities of the poet. 

Almost the same might be said of jealousy. His jealous Orosman plays a 
sorry figure beside the jealous Othello of Shakespeare. And yet Othello has 
unquestionably furnished the prototype of Orosman. Gibber says Voltaire 
avails himself of the brand that lighted the tragic pile of Shakespeare. I 
should have said: a brand from out of this flaming pile and moreover one that 
smoked more than it glowed or warmed. In Orosman we hear a jealous man 
speak and we see him commit a rash deed of jealousy, but of jealousy itself 
we learn neither more nor less than what we knew before. Othello on the 
contrary is a complete manual of this deplorable madness; there we can learn 
all that refers to it and how we may avoid it. 

But is it always Shakespeare, always and eternally Shakespeare who under- 
stood everything better than the French, I hear my readers ask? That annoys 
us, because we cannot read him. I seize this opportunity to remind the 
public of what it seems purposely to have forgotten. We have a translation 
of Shakespeare. . . The undertaking was a difficult one, and any other 
person than Herr Wieland would have made other slips in his haste, or have 
passed over more passages from ignorance or laziness, and what parts he has 


done well few will do better. Any way his rendering of Shakespeare is a 
book that cannot be enough commended among us. We have much to learn 
yet from the beauties he has given to us. 

GOETHE. (Wilhclm Meister. 1795. The rest of this famous passage on 
Hamlet is quoted on p. 417.) 

Conceive a prince such as I have painted him, and that his father suddenly 
dies. Ambition and the love of rule are not the passions that inspire him. As 
a king's son he would have been contented: but now he is first constrained 
to consider the difference which separates a sovereign from a subject. The 
crown was not hereditary; yet a longer possession of it by his father would 
have strengthened the pretensions of an only son, and secured his hopes of 
the succession. In place of this, he now beholds himself excluded by his 
uncle, in spite of specious promises, most probably forever. He is now poor 
in goods and favour, and a stranger in the scene which from youth he had 
looked upon as his inheritance. His temper here assumes its first mournful 
tinge. He feels that now he is not more, that he is less, than a private noble- 
man; he offers himself as the servant of every one; he is not courteous and 
condescending, he is needy and degraded. 

His past condition he remembers as a vanished dream. It is in vain that 
his uncle strives to cheer him, to present his situation in another point of 
view. The feeling of his nothingness will not leave him. 

The second stroke that came upon him wounded deeper, bowed still 
more. It was the marriage of his mother. The faithful tender son had yet 
a mother, when his father passed away. He hoped, in the company of his 
surviving noble-minded parent, to reverence the heroic form of the departed; 
but his mother too he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs 
him of her. The trustful image, which a good child loves to form of its 
parents, is gone. With the dead there is no help; on the living no hold. She 
also is a woman, and her name is Frailty, like that of all her sex. 

Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned; and ao 
happiness of life can repay what he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by 
nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation. It is 
thus that we see him first enter on the scene. I do not think that I have mixed 
aught foreign with the piece, or overcharged a single feature of it. 

A. W. SCHLEGEL. (Uber dramatische Kunst und Littcratur. Lectures de- 
livered in Vienna in 1808, and published 1812.) 

Never, perhaps, was there so comprehensive a talent for the delineation of 
character as Shakespeare's. It not only grasps the diversities of rank, sex, and 
age, down to the dawnings of infancy; not only do the king and the beggar, 
the hero and the pickpocket, the sage and the idiot speak and act with equal 
truth; not only does he transport himself to distant ages and foreign nations, 


and portray in the most accurate manner, with only a few apparent violations 
of costume, the spirit of the ancient Romans, of the French in their wars with 
the English, of the English themselves during a great part of their history, of 
the southern Europeans (in the serious part of many comedies) the cultivated 
society of that time, and the former rude and barbarous state of the North; 
his human characters have not only such depth and precision that they cannot 
be arranged under classes, and are inexhaustible, even in conception: no 
this Prometheus not merely forms men, he opens the gates of the magical 
world of spirits; calls up the midnight ghost; exhibits before us his witches 
amidst their unhallowed mysteries; peoples the air with sportive fairies and 
sylphs: and these beings, existing only in imagination, possess such truth 
and consistency, that even when deformed monsters like Caliban, he extorts 
the conviction, that if there should be such beings, they would so conduct 
themselves. In a word, as he carries with him the most fruitful and daring 
fancy to the kingdom of nature, on the other hand, he carries nature into 
the regions of fancy, lying beyond the confines of reality. We are lost in 
astonishment at seeing the extraordinary, the wonderful, and the unheard of, 
in such intimate nearness. 

If Shakespeare deserves our admiration for his characters, he is equally 
deserving of it for his exhibition of passion, taking this word in its widest 
significance, as including every mental condition, every tone from indifference 
or familiar mirth to the wildest rage and despair. He gives us the history of ^ 
minds; he lays open to us, in a single word, a whole series of preceding con- 
ditions. His pasfions do not at first stand displayed to us in all their height, 
as is the case with so many tragic poets, who, in the language of Lessing, are 
thorough masters of the legal style of love. He paints, in a most inimitable 
manner, the gradual progress from the first origin. 'He gives', as Lessing 
says, 'a living picture of all the most minute and secret artifices by which a 
feeling steals into our souls; of all the imperceptible advantages which it there 
gains; of all the stratagems by which every other passion is made subservient 
to it, till it becomes the sole tyrant of our desires and our aversions.' Of all 
I poets, perhaps, he alone has portrayed the mental diseases^ melancholy, 
(delirium, lunacy, with such inexpressible, and, in every respect, definite 
s truth, that the physician may enrich his observations from them in the same 
manner as from real cases. 

LAMB. (On the Tragedies of Shaksfearc. 1811.) 

It may seem a paradox, but I cannot help being of opinion that the plays 
of Shakespeare are less calcukted for performance on a stage, than those of 
almost any other dramatist whatever. Their distinguishing excellence is a 
reason that they should be so. There is so much in them, which comes not 
under the province of acting, with which eye, and tone, and gesture, have 
nothing to do. 

The glory of the scenic art is to personate passion, and the turns of passion: 
and the more coarse and palpable the passion is, the more hold upon the eyes 


and ears of the spectators the performer obviously possesses. For this reason, 
scolding scenes, scenes where two persons talk themselves into a fit of fury, 
and then in a surprising manner talk themselves out of it again, have always 
been the most popular upon our stage. And the reason is plain, because the 
spectators are here most palpably appealed to, they are the proper judges in 
this war of words, they are the legitimate ring that should be formed round 
such 'intellectual prize-fighters'. Talking is the direct object of the imitation 
here. But in all the best dramas, and in Shakespeare above all, how obvious 
it is, that the form of speaking, whether it be in soliloquy or dialogue, is only 
a medium, and often a highly artificial one, for putting the reader or spectator , 
into possession of that knowledge of the inner structure and workings of 
mind in a character, which he could otherwise never have arrived at in that 
form of composition by any gift short of intuition. We do here as we do with 
novels written* in the epistolary form. How many improprieties, perfect 
solecisms in letter- writing, do we put up with in Clarissa and other books, 
for the sake of the delight which that form upon the whole gives us. 

But the practice of stage representation reduces everything to a con- 
troversy of elocution. Every character, from the boisterous blasphemings of 
Bajazet to the shrinking timidity of womanhood, must play the orator. The 
love-dialogues of Romeo and Juliet, those silver-sweet sounds of lovers' 
tongues by night; the more intimate and sacred sweetness of nuptial colloquy 
between an Othello or a Posthumus with their married wives, all those 
delicacies which are so delightful in the reading, as when we read of those 
youthful dalliances in Paradise 

As beseem'd 

Fair couple link'd in happy nuptial league, 

by the inherent fault of stage representation, how are these things sullied and 
turned from their very nature by being exposed to a large assembly; when 
such speeches as Imogen addresses to her lord, come drawling out of the 
mouth of a hired actress, whose courtship, though nominally addressed to the 
personated Posthumus, is manifestly aimed at the spectators, who are to judge 
of her endearments and her returns of love. ... 

The truth is, the Characters of Shakespeare are so much the objects of 
meditation rather than of interest or curiosity as to their actions, that while 
we are reading any of his great criminal characters, Macbeth, Richard, 
even lago, we think not so much of the crimes which they commit, as of 
the ambition, the aspiring spirit, the intellectual activity, which prompts 
them to overleap those moral fences. Barn well is a wretched murderer; 
there is a certain fitness between his neck and the rope; he is the legitimate 
heir to the gallows; nobody who thinks at all can think of any alleviating 
circumstances in his case to make him a fit object of mercy. Or to take an 
instance from the higher tragedy, what else but a mere assassin is Glenalvon! 
Do we think of anything but of the crime which he commits, and the rack 
which he deserves? That is all which we really think about him. Whereas 
in corresponding characters in Shakspeare so little do the actions compara- 


lively affect us, that while the impulses, the inner mind in all its perverted 
greatness, solely seems real and is exclusively attended to, the crime is com- 
paratively nothing. But when we see these things represented, the acts which 
they do are comparatively every thing, their impulses nothing. The state of 
sublime emotion into which we are elevated by those images of night and 
horror which Macbeth is made to utter, that solemn prelude with which he 
entertains the time till the bell shall strike which is to call him to murder 
Duncan, when we no longer read it in a book, when we have given up that 
vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seeing, and come 
to see a man in his bodily shape before our eyes actually preparing to commit 
a murder, if the acting be true and impressive, as I have witnessed it in Mr. 
K.'s performance of that part, the painful anxiety about the act, the natural 
longing to prevent it while it yet seems unperpetrated, the too close pressing 
semblance of reality, give a pain and an uneasiness which totally destroy all 
the delight which the words in the book convey, where the deed doing never 
presses upon us with the painful sense of presence: it rather seems to belong 
to history, to something past and inevitable, if it has any thing to do with 
time at all. The sublime images, the poetry alone, is that which is present to 
our minds in the reading. ... 

It requires little reflection to perceive, that if those characters in Shake- 
speare which are within the precincts of nature, have yet something in them 
which appeals too exclusively to the imagination, to admit of their being 
made objects to the senses without suffering a change and a diminution, 
that still stronger the objection must lie against representing another line of 
characters, which Shakspeare has introduced to give a wildness and a super- 
natural elevation to his senses, as if to remove them still farther from that 
assimilation to common life in which their excellence is vulgarly supposed to 
consist. When we read the incantations of those terrible beings the Witches 
in Macbeth, though some of the ingredients of their hellish composition 
savour of the grotesque, yet is the effect upon us other than the most serious 
and appalling that can be imagined? Do we not feel spell-bound as Macbeth 
was? Can any mirth accompany a sense of their presence? We might as well 
laugh under a consciousness of the principle of Evil himself being truly and 
really present with us. But attempt to bring these beings on to a stage, and 
you turn them instantly into so many old women, that men and children are 
to laugh at. Contrary to the old saying, that 'seeing is believing', the sight 
actually destroys the faith; and the mirth in which we indulge at their expense, 
when we see these creatures upon a stage, seems to be a sort of indemnifica- 
tion which we make to ourselves for the terror which they put us in when 
reading made them an object of belief, when we surrendered up our 
reason to the poet, as children to their nurses and their elders; and we laugh 
at our fears, as children who thought they saw something in the dark, triumph 
when the bringing in of a candle discovers the vanity of their fears. For this 
exposure of supernatural agents upon a stage is truly bringing in a candle to 
expose their own delusiveness. . . . 

The subject of Scenery is closely connected with that of the Dresses, 
which are so anxiously attended to on our stage. I remember the last time I 


saw Macbeth played, the discrepancy I felt at the changes of garment which 
he varied, the shiftings and re-shiftings, like a Romish priest at mass. The 
luxury of stage-improvements, and the importunity of the public eye, require 
this. The coronation robe of the Scottish monarch was fairly a counterpart 
to that which our King wears when he goes to the Parliament-house, just 
so full and cumbersome, and set out with ermine and pearls. And if things 
must be represented, I see not what to find fault with in this. But in reading, 
what robe are we conscious of? Some dim images of royalty a crown and 
sceptre, may float before our eyes, but who shall describe the fashion of it? 
Do we see in our mind's eye what Webb or any other robe-maker could 
pattern? This is the inevitable consequence of imitating every thing, to make 
all things natural. Whereas the reading of a tragedy is a fine abstraction. It 
presents to the fancy just so much of external appearances as to make us feel 
that we are among flesh and blood, while by far the greater and better part 
of our imagination is employed upon the thoughts and internal machinery of 
the character. But in acting, scenery, dress, the most contemptible things, 
call upon us to judge of their naturalness. 

Perhaps it would be no bad similitude, to liken the pleasure which we take 
in seeing one of these fine plays acted, compared with that quiet delight 
which we find in the reading of it, to the different feelings with which a 
reviewer, and a man that is not a reviewer, reads a fine poem. The accursed 
critical habit, the being called upon to judge and pronounce, must make 
it quite a different thing to the former. In seeing these plays acted, we are 
affected just as judges. When Hamlet compares the two pictures of Ger- 
trude's first and second husband, who wants to see the pictures? But in the 
acting, a miniature must be lugged out; which we know not to be the picture, 
but only .to show how finely a miniature may be represented. This shewing 
of every thing, levels all things: it makes tricks, bows, and curtesies, of im- 
portance. Mrs. S. never got more fame by any thing than by the manner in 
which she dismisses the guests in the banquet-scene in Macbeth: it is as much 
remembered as any of her thrilling tones or impressive looks. But does such 
a trifle as this enter into the imaginations of the readers of that wild and 
wonderful scene? Does not the mind dismiss the feasters as rapidly as it can? 
Does it care about the gracefulness of the doing it? But by acting, and judging 
of acting, all these non-essentials are raised into an importance, injurious to 
the main interest of the play. 

I have confined my observations to the tragic parts of Shakespeare. It 
would be no very difficult task to extend the enquiry to his comedies; and to 
shew why Falstaff, Shallow, Sir Hugh Evans, and the rest, are equally in- 
compatible with stage representation. 

COLERIDGE. (Essays and Lectures on Shakspeare. 1818.) 
Sha kspeare's Judgment equal to his Genius 

Thus then Shakespeare appears, from his Venus and Adonis and Rape of 
Lucrece alone, apart from all his great works, to have possessed all the con- 


ditions of the true poet. Let me now proceed to destroy, as far as may be 
in my power, the popular notion that he was a great dramatist by mere 
instinct, that he grew immortal in his own despite, and sank below men of 
second or third-rate power, when he attempted aught beside the drama 
even as bees construct their cells and manufacture their honey to admirable 
perfection; but would in vain attempt to build a nest. Now this mode of 
reconciling a compelled sense of inferiority with a feeling of pride, began in 
a few pedants, who having read that Sophocles was the great model of tragedy, 
and Aristotle the infallible dictator of its rules, and finding that the Lear, 
Hamlet, Othello and other master-pieces were neither in imitation of 
Sophocles, nor in obedience to Atistotie, and not having (with one or two 
exceptions) the courage to affirm, that the delight which their country 
received from generation to generation, in defiance of the alterations of cir- 
cumstances and habits, was wholly groundless, took upon them, as a happy 
medium and refuge, to talk of Shakspeare as a sort of beautiful lusus natur<e> 
a delightful monster, wild, indeed, and without taste or judgment, but like 
the inspired idiots so much venerated in the East, uttering, amid the strangest 
follies, the sublimest truths. In nine places out of ten in which I find his 
awful name mentioned, it is with some epithet of 'wild', 'irregular', 'pure 
child of nature', c. If all this be true, we must submit to it; though to a 
thinking mind it cannot but be painful to find any excellence, merely human, 
thrown out of all human analogy, and thereby leaving us neither rules for 
imitation, nor motives to imitate; but if false, it is a dangerous falsehood; 
for it affords a refuge to secret self-conceit, enables a vain man at once to 
escape his reader's indignation by general swoln panegyrics, and merely by* 
his ifse dixit to treat, as contemptible, what he has not intellect enough to 
comprehend, or soul to feel, without assigning any reason, or referring his 
opinion to any demonstrative principle; thus leaving Shakspeare as a sort of 
grand Lama, adored indeed, and his very excrements prized as relics, but with 
no authority or real influence. I grieve that every late voluminous edition 
of his works would enable me to substantiate the present charge with a variety 
of facts one tenth of which would of themselves exhaust the time allotted to 
me. Every critic, who has or has not made a collection of black letter books 
in itself a useful and respectable amusement, puts on the seven-league boots 
of self-opinion, and strides at once from an illustrator into a supreme judge, 
and blind and deaf, fills his three-ounce phial at the waters of Niagara; and 
determines positively the greatness of the cataract to be neither more nor less 
than his three-ounce phial has been able to receive. 

I think this is a very serious subject. It is my earnest desire my passionate 
endeavour, to enforce at various times and by various arguments and 
instances the close and reciprocal connexion of just taste with pure morality. 
Without that acquaintance with the heart of man, or that docility and child- 
like gladness to be made acquainted with it, which those only can have, who 
dare look at their own hearts -And that with a steadiness which religion 
only has the power of reconciling with sincere humility; without this, 
and the modesty produced by it, I am deeply convinced that no man, 
however wide his erudition, however patient his antiquarian researches, 


can possibly understand, or be worthy of understanding, the writings of 

Assuredly that criticism of Shakspeare will alone be genial which is 
reverential. The Englishman, who without reverence, a proud and affec- 
tionate reverence, can utter the name of William Shakspeare, stands dis- 
qualified for the office of critic. He wants one at least of the very senses, the 
language of which he is to employ, and will discourse, at best, but as a blind 
man, while the whole harmonious creation of light and shade with all its 
subtle interchange of deepening and dissolving colours rises in silence to the 
silent fiat of the uprising Apollo. However inferior in ability I may be to 
some who have followed me, I own I am proud that I was the first in time 
who publicly demonstrated to the full extent of the position, that the supposed 
irregularity and extravagances of Shakspeare were the mere dreams of a 
pedantry that arraigned the eagle because it had not the dimensions of the 
swan. In all the successive courses of lectures delivered by me, since my 
first attempt at the Royal Institution, it has been, and it still remains, my 
object, to prove that in all points from the most important to the most minute, 
the judgment of Shakspeare is commensurate with his genius, nay, that his 
genius reveals itself in his judgment, as in its most exalted form. And the 
more gladly do I recur to this subject from the clear conviction, that to judge 
aright, and with distinct consciousness of the grounds of our judgment, con- 
cerning the works of Shakspeare, implies the power and means of judging 
rightly of all other works of intellect, those of abstract science alone ex- 
cepted. . . . 

Let me, then, once more submit this question to minds emancipated alike 
from national, or party, or sectarian prejudice: Are the plays of Shakspeare 
works of rude uncultivated genius, in which the splendour of the parts 
compensates, if aught can compensate, for the barbarous shapelessness and 
irregularity of the whole? Or is the form equally admirable with the matter, 
and the judgment of the great poet, not less deserving our wonder than his 
genius? Or, again, to repeat the question in other words: Is Shakspeare a 
great dramatic poet on account only of those beauties and excellences which 
he possesses in common with the ancients, but with diminished claims to our 
love and honour to the full extent of his differences from them? Or are these 
very differences additional proofs of poetic wisdom, at once results and 
symbols of living power as contrasted with lifeless mechanism of free and 
rival originality as contra-distinguished from servile imitation, or, more 
accurately, a blind copying of effects, instead of a true imitation, of the essential 
principles? Imagine not that I am about to oppose genius to rules. No! the 
comparative value of these rules is the very cause to be tried. The spirit of 
poetry, like all other living powers, must of necessity circumscribe itself by 
rules, were it only to unite power with beauty. It must embody in order to 
reveal itself; but a living body is of necessity an organized one; and what is 
organization but the connection of parts in and for a whole, so that each part 
is at once end and means? This is no discovery of criticism; it is a necessity 
of the human mind; and all nations have felt and obeyed it, in the invention 
of metre, and measured sounds, as the vehicle and involucrum of poetry 


itself a fellow-growth from the same life, even as the bark is to the 

No work of true genius dares want its appropriate form, neither indeed is 
there any danger of this. As it must not, so genius cannot, be lawless; for it 
is even this that constitutes it genius the power of acting creatively under 
laws of its own origination. How then comes it that not only single Zoi/i, 
but whole nations have combined in unhesitating condemnation of our great 
dramatist, as a sort of African nature, rich in beautiful monsters as a wild 
heath where islands of fertility look the greener from the surrounding waste, 
where the loveliest plants now shine out among unsightly weeds, and now 
are choked by their parasitic growth, so intertwined that we cannot disen- 
tangle the weed without snapping the flower? In this statement I have had 
no reference to the vulgar abuse of Voltaire, save as far as his charges are 
coincident with the decisions of Shakspeare's own commentators and (so they 
would tell you) almost idolatrous admirers. The true ground of the mistake 
lies in the confounding mechanical regularity with organic form. The form 
is mechanic, when on any given material we impress a pre-determined form, 
not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material; as when to a 
mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when hardened. 
The organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes, as it develops, itself 
from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the 
perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, 
the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible 
in forms; each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within, its true 
image reflected -and thrown out from the concave mirror; and even such is 
the appropriate excellence of her chosen poet, of our own Shakspeare, 
himself such a nature humanized, a genial understanding directing selfcon- 
sciously a power and an implicit widsom deeper even than our consciousness. 

I greatly dislike beauties and selections in general; but as proof positive 
of his unrivalled excellence, I should like to try Shakspeare by this criterion. 
Make out your amplest catalogue of all the human faculties, as reason or the 
moral law, the will, the feeling of the coincidence of the two (a feeling sui 
generis et demonstrate demons trationum) called the conscience, the under- 
standing or prudence, wit, fancy, imagination, judgment, and then of the 
objects on which these are to be employed, as the beauties, the terrors, and 
the seeming caprices of nature, the realities and the capabilities, that is, the 
actual and the ideal, of the human mind, conceived as an individual or as a 
social being, as in innocence or in guilt, in a play-paradise, or in a war-field 
of temptation; and then compare with Shakspeare under each of these 
heads all or any of the writers in prose and verse that have ever lived! Who, 
that is competent to judge, doubts the result? And ask your own hearts, 
ask your own common sense to conceive the possibility of this man being 
I say not, the drunken savage of that wretched sciolist, whom Frenchmen, 
to their shame, have honoured before their elder and better worthies, but 
the anomalous, the wild, the irregular, genius of our daily criticism! What! 
are we to have miracles in sport? Or, I speak reverently, does God choose 
idiots by whom to convey divine truths to man? 


The Characteristics of Shakspe are's Dramas. 

Having intimated that times and manners lend their form and pressure to 
genius, let me once more draw a slight parallel between the ancient and 
modern stage, the stages of Greece and of England. The Greeks were 
poly theists; their religion was local; almost the only object of all their know- 
ledge, art and taste, was their gods; and, accordingly, their productions were, 
if the expression may be allowed, statuesque, whilst those of the moderns are 
picturesque. The Greeks reared a structure, which in its parts, and as a 
whole, filled the mind with the calm and elevated impression of perfect 
beauty, and symmetrical proportion. The moderns also produced a whole, 
a more striking whole; but it was by blending materials and fusing the parts 
together. And as the Pantheon is to York Minster or Westminster Abbey, 
so is Sophocles compared with Shakespeare; in the one a completeness, a 
satisfaction, an excellence, on which the mind rests with complacency; in the 
other a multitude of interlaced materials, great and little, magnificent and 
mean, accompanied, indeed, with a sense of a falling short of perfection, and 
yet, at the same time, so promising of our social and individual progression, 
that we would not, if we could, exchange it for that repose of the mind which 
dwells on the forms of symmetry in the acquiescent admiration of grace. 
This general characteristic of the ancient and modern drama might be 
illustrated by a parallel of the ancient and modern music; the one consisting 
of melody arising from a succession of only pleasing sounds, the modern 
embracing harmony also, the result of combination and the effect of a whole. 

I have said, and I say it again, that great as was the genius of Shakespeare, 
his judgment was at least equal to it. Of this any one will be convinced, who 
attentively considers those points in which the dramas of Greece and England 
differ, from the dissimilitude of circumstances by which each was modified 
and influenced. . . . 

The stage in Shakespeare's time was a naked room with a blanket for a 
curtain; but he made it a field for monarchs. That law of unity, which has 
its foundations, not in the factitious necessity of custom, but in nature itself, 
the unity of feeling, is every where and at all times observed by Shakspeare 
in his plays. Read Romeo and Juliet; all is youth and spring; youth and 
its follies, its virtues, its precipitancies; spring with its odours, its flowers, 
and its transiency; it is one and the same feeling that commences, goes 
through, and ends the play. The old men, the Capulets and the Montagues, 
are not common old men; they have an eagerness, a heartiness, a vehemence, 
the effect of spring; with Romeo, his change of passion, his sudden marriage, 
and his rash death, are all the effects of youth; whilst in Juliet love has all 
that is tender and mekncholy in the nightingale, all that is voluptuous in the 
rose, with whatever is sweet in the freshness of spring; but it ends with a long 
deep sigh like the last breeze of the Italian evening. This unity of feeling 
and character pervades every drama of Shakespeare. 

It seems to me that his plays are distinguished from those of all other 
dramatic poets by the following characteristics: 

I . Expectation in preference to surprise. It is like the true reading of the 


passage: 'God said, Let there be light, and there was light \ not there was 
light. As the feeling with which we startle at a shooting star compared with 
that of watching the sunrise at the pre-established moment, such and so low 
is surprise compared with expectation. 

2. Signal adherence to the great law of nature, that all opposites tend to 
attract and temper each other. Passion in Shakspeare generally displays 
libertinism, but involves morality; and if there are exceptions to this, they are, 
independently of their intrinsic value, all of them indicative of individual 
character, and, like the farewell admonitions of a parent, have an end beyond 
the parental relation. Thus the Countess's beautiful precepts to Bertram, by 
elevating her character, raise that of Helena her favorite, and soften down 
the point in her which Shakspeare does not mean us not to see, but to see and 
to forgive, and at length to justify. And so it is in Polonius, who is the per- 
sonified memory of wisdom no longer actually possessed. This admirable 
character is always misrepresented on the stage. Shakspeare never intended 
to exhibit him as a buffoon; for although it was natural that Hamlet, a 
young man of fire and genius, detesting formality, and disliking Polonius on 
political grounds, as imagining that he had assisted his uncle in his usurpa- 
tion, should express himself satirically, yet this must not be taken as 
exactly the poet's conception of him. In Polonius a certain induration of 
character had arisen from long habits of business; but take his advice to 
Laertes, and Ophelia's reverence for his memory, and we shall see that he 
was meant to be represented as a statesman somewhat past his faculties, his 
recollections of life all full of wisdom, and showing a knowledge of human 
nature, whilst what immediately takes place before him, and escapes from 
him, is indicative of weakness. 

But as in Homer all the deities are in armour, even Venus; so in Shakspeare 
all the characters are strong. Hence real folly and dulness are made by 
him the vehicles of wisdom. There is no difficulty for one being a fool to 
imitate a fool; but to be, remain, and speak like a wise man and a great wit, 
and yet so as to give a vivid representation of a veritable fool, hie labor > hoc 
opus est. A drunken constable is not uncommon, nor hard to draw; but see 
and examine what goes to make up a Dogberry. 

3. Keeping at all times in the high road of life. Shakspeare has no innocent 
adulteries, no interesting incests, no virtuous vice; he never renders that 
amiable which religion and reason alike teach us to detest, or clothes impurity 
in the garb of virtue, like Beaumont and Fletcher, the Kotzebues of the day. 
Shakspeare's fathers are roused by ingratitude, his husbands stung by unfaith- 
fulness; in him, in short, the affections are wounded in those points in which 
all may, nay, must, feel. Let the morality of Shakspeare be contrasted with 
that of the writers of his own, or the succeeding, age, or of those of the present 
day, who boast their superiority in this respect. No one can dispute that the 
result of such a comparison is altogether in favour of Shakspeare; even the 
letters of women of high rank in his age were often coarser than his writings. 
If he occasionally disgusts a keen sense of delicacy, he never injures the mind; 
he neither excites, nor flatters, passion, in order to degrade the subject of it; 
he does not use the faulty thing for a faulty purpose, nor carries an warfare 


against virtue, by causing wickedness to appear as no wickedness, through 
the medium of a morbid sympathy with the unfortunate. In Shakspeare vice 
never walks as in twilight; nothing is purposely out of its place; he inverts 
not the order of nature and propriety, -does not make every magistrate a 
drunkard or glutton, nor every poor man meek, humane, and temperate; he 
has no benevolent butchers, nor any sentimental rat-catchers. 

4. Independence of the dramatic interest on the plot. The interest in the 
plot is always in fact on account of the characters, not vice versa, as in almost 
all other writers; the plot is a mere canvass and no more. Hence arises the 
true justification of the same stratagem being used in regard to Benedict and 
Beatrice, the vanity in each being alike. Take away from the Much Ado 
About Nothing all that which is not indispensable to the plot, either as having 
little to do with it, or, at best, like Dogberry and his comrades, forced into 
the service, when any other less ingeniously absurd watchmen and night- 
constables would have answered the mere necessities of the, action; take 
away Benedict, Beatrice, Dogberry, and the reaction of the former on the 
character of Hero, and what will remain? In other writers the main agent 
of the plot is always the prominent character; in Shakspeare it is so, or is not 
so, as the character is in itself calculated, or not calculated, to form the plot. 
Don John is the main-spring of the plot of this play; but he is merely shown 
and then withdrawn. 

5. Independence of the interest on the story as the ground- work of the 
plot. Hence Shakspeare never took the trouble of inventing stones. It was 
enough for him to select from those that had been already invented or re- 
corded such as had one or other, or both, of two recommendations, namely, 
suitableness to his particular purpose, and their being parts of popular 
tradition, names of which we had often heard, and of their fortunes, and 
as to which all we wanted was, to see the man himself. So it is just the man 
himself, the Lear, the Shylock, the Richard, that Shakspeare makes us for the 
first time acquainted with. Omit the first scene in Lear, and yet every thing 
will remain; so the first and second scenes in the Merchant of Venice. Indeed 
it is universally true. 

6. Interfusion of the lyrical that which in its very essence is poetical 
not only with the dramatic, as in the plays of Metastasio, where at the end 
of the scene comes the aria as the exit speech of the character, but also in 
and through the dramatic. Songs in Shakspeare are introduced as songs only, 
just as songs are in real life, beautifully as some of them are characteristic of 
the person who has sung or called for them, as Desdemona's 'Willow', and 
Ophelia's wild snatches, and the sweet carollings in As You Like It. But the 
whole of the Midsummer Night's Dream is one continued specimen of 
the dramatized lyrical. And observe how exquisitely the dramatic of 

Marry, and I'm glad on't with all my heart; 
I'd rather be a kitten and cry mew, &c. 

melts away into the lyric of Mortimore: 


I understand thy looks: that pretty Welsh 

Which thou pourest down from these swelling heavens, 

I am too perfect in, &c. 

7. The characters of the dramatis person*, like those in real life, are to be 
inferred by the reader; they are not told to him. And it id well worth 
remarking that Shakspeare's characters, like those in real life, are very com- 
monly misunderstood, and almost always understood by different persons in 
different ways. The causes are the same in either case. If you take only what 
the friends of the character say, you may be deceived, and still more so, if 
that which his enemies say; nay, even the character himself sees himself 
through the medium of his character, and not exactly as he is. Take all 
together, not omitting a shrewd hint from the clown or the fool, and perhaps 
your impression will be right; and you may know whether you have in fact 
discovered the poet's own idea, by all the speeches receiving light from it, 
and attesting its reality by reflecting it. 

Lastly, in Shakespeare the heterogeneous is united, as it is in nature. You 
must not suppose a pressure or passion always acting in or on a character! 
passion in Shakspeare is that by which the individual is distinguished from 
others, not that which makes a different kind of him. Shakspeare followed 
the main march of the human affections. He entered into no analysis of the 
passions or faiths of men, but assured himself that such and such passions and 
faiths were grounded in our common nature, and not in the mere accidents 
of ignorance or disease. This is an important consideration, and consti- 
tutes our Shakspeare the morning star, the guide and the pioneer, of true 

HAZLITT. (Lectures on the English Poets. 1818.) 

The striking peculiarity of Shakspeare's mind was its generic quality, its 
power of communication with all other minds so that it contained a uni- 
verse of thought and feeling within itself, and had no one peculiar bias, or 
exclusive excellence more than another. He was just like any other man, 
but that he was like all other men. He was the least of an egotist that it was 
possible to be. He was nothing in himself; but he was all that others were, 
or that they could become. He not only had in himself the germs of every 
faculty and feeling, but he could follow them by anticipation, intuitively, into 
all their conceivable ramifications, through every change of fortune or conflict 
of passion, or turn of thought. He had 'a mind reflecting ages past', and 
present: all the people that ever lived are there. There was no respect of 
persons with him. His genius shone equally on the evil and on the good, on 
the wise and the foolish, the monarch and the beggar: 'All corners of the 
earth, kings, queens, and states, maids, matrons, nay, the secrets of the grave', 
are hardly hid from his searching glance. He was like the genius of humanity, 
changing pkces with all of us at pleasure, and playing with our purposes as 


with his own. He turned the globe round for his amusement, and surveyed 
the generations of men, and the individuals as they passed, with their different 
concerns, passions, follies, vices, virtues, actions, and motives as well those 
that they knew, as those which they did not know, or acknowledge to them- 
selves. The dreams of childhood, the ravings of despair, were the toys of his 
fancy. Airy beings waited at his cell, and came at his bidding. Harmless 
fairies 'nodded to him, and did him curtesies': and the night-hag bestrode the 
blast at the command of 'his so potent art*. The world of spirits lay open to 
him, like the world of real men and women: and there is the same truth in 
his delineations of the one as of the other; for if the preternatural characters he 
describes could be supposed to exist, they would speak, and feel, and act, as 
he makes them. He had only to think of any thing in order to become that 
thing, with all the circumstances belonging to it. When he conceived of a 
character, whether real or imaginary, he not only entered into all its thoughts 
and feelings, but seemed instantly, and as if by touching a secret spring, to 
be surrounded with all the same objects, 'subject to the same skyey influences', 
the same local, outward, and unforeseen accidents which would occur in 
reality. Thus the character of Caliban not only stands before us with a lan- 
guage and manners of its own, but the scenery and situation of the enchanted 
island he inhabits, the traditions of the place, its strange noises, its hidden 
recesses, 'his frequent haunts and ancient neighbourhood', are given with a 
miraculous truth of nature, and with all the familiarity of an old recollection. 
The whole 'coheres semblably together' in time, place, and circumstance. In 
reading this author, you do not merely learn what his characters say, you 
see their persons. By something expressed or understood, you are at no loss 
to decypher their peculiar physiognomy, the meaning of a look, the grouping, 
the bye-play, as we might see it on the stage. A word, an epithet paints a 
whole scene, or throws us back whole years in the history of the person 
represented. So (as it has been ingeniously remarked) when Prospero de- 
scribes himself as left alone in the boat with his daughter, the epithet which 
he applies to her, 'Me and thy crying self?' flings the imagination instantly 
back from the grown woman to the helpless condition of infancy, and places 
the first and most trying scene of his misfortunes before us, with all that he 
must have suffered in the interval. ... It is not 'a combination and a form' 
of words, a set speech or two, a preconcerted theory of a character, that will 
do this: but all the persons concerned must have been present in the poet's 
imagination, as at a kind of rehearsal; and whatever would have passed 
through their minds on the occasion, and have been observed by others, 
passed through his, and is made known to the reader. . . . 

That which, perhaps, more than any thing else distinguishes the dramatic 
productions of Shakspeare from all others, is this wonderful truth and in- 
dividuality of conception. Each of his characters is as much itself, and as 
absolutely independent of the rest, as well as of the author, as if they were 
living persons, not fictions of the mind. The poet may be said, for the time, 
to identify himself with the character he wishes to represent, and to pass 
from one to another, like the same soul successively animating different 
bodies. By an art like that of the ventriloquist, he throws his imagination out 


of himself, and makes every word appear to proceed from the mouth of the 
person in whose name it is given. His plays alone are properly expressions of 
the passions, not descriptions of them. His characters are real beings of flesh 
and blood; they speak like men, not like authors. One might suppose that he 
had stood by at the time, and overheard what passed. As in our dreams we 
hold conversations with ourselves, make remarks, or communicate intelligence, 
and have no idea of the answer which we shall receive, and which we our- 
selves make, till we hear it: so the dialogues in Shakspeare are carried on 
without any consciousness of what is to follow, without any appearance of 
preparation or premeditation. The gusts of passion come and go like sounds 
of music borne on the mind. Nothing is made out by formal inference and 
analogy, by climax and antithesis: all comes, or seems to come, immediately 
from nature. Each object and circumstance exists in his mind, as it would 
have existed in reality: each several train of thought and feeling goes on of 
itself, without confusion or effort. In the world of his imagination, every 
thing has a life, a place, and being of its own. . . . 

Chaucer's characters are narrative, Shakspeare's dramatic, Milton's epic. 
That is, Chaucer told only as much of his story as he pleased, as was required 
for a particular purpose. He answered for his characters himself. In Shak- 
speare they are introduced upon the stage, are liable to be asked all sorts of 
questions, and are forced to answer for themselves. In Chaucer we perceive 
a fixed essence of character. In Shakspeare there is a continual composition 
and decomposition of its elements, a fermentation of every particle in the 
whole mass, by its alternate affinity or antipathy to other principles which 
are brought in contact with it. Till the experiment is tried, we do not know 
the result, the turn which the character will take in its new circumstances. 
Milton took only a few simple principles of character, and raised them to the 
utmost conceivable grandeur, and refined them from every base alloy. His 
imagination, 'nigh sphered in Heaven', claimed kindred only with what he 
saw from that height, and could raise to the same elevation with itself. He 
sat retired and kept his state alone, 'playing with wisdom'; while Shakspeare 
mingled with the crowd, and played the host, 'to make society the sweeter 

The passion in Shakspeare is of the same nature as his delineation of 
character. It is not some one habitual feeling or sentiment preying upon 
itself, growing out of itself, and moulding every thing to itself; it is passion 
modified by passion, by all the other feelings to which the individual is liable, 
and to which others are liable with him; subject to all the fluctuations of 
caprice and accident; calling into pky all the resources of the understanding 
and all the energies of the will; irritated by obstacles or yielding to them; 
rising from small beginnings to its utmost height; now drunk with hope, now 
stung to madness, now sunk in despair, now blown to air with a breath, now 
raging like a torrent. The human soul is made the sport of fortune, the prey 
of adversity: it is stretched on the wheel of destiny, in restless ecstasy. The 
passions are in a state of projection. Years are melted down to moments, 
and every instant teems with fate. We know the results, we see the process. 
Thus after lago had been boasting to himself of the effect of l^is poisonous 


suggestions on the mind of Othello, 'which, with a little act upon the blood, 
will work like mines of sulphur 1 , he adds 

'Look where he comesi not poppy nor mandragora, 
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the East, 
Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep 
Which thou ow'dst yesterday.' 

And he enters at this moment, like the crested serpent, crowned with his 
wrongs and raging for revenge! The whole depends upon the turn of a 
thought. A word, a look, blows the spark of jealousy into a flame; and the 
explosion is immediate and terrible as a volcano. The dialogues in Lear, in 
Macbeth, that between Brutus and Cassius, and nearly all those in Shak- 
speare, where the interest is wrought up to its highest pitch, afford examples 
of this dramatic fluctuation of passion. The interest in Chaucer is quite 
different; it is like the course of a river, strong, and full, and increasing. In 
Shakspeare, on the contrary, it is like the sea, agitated this way and that, and 
loud-lashed by furious storms; while in the still pauses of the blast, we dis- 
tinguish only the cries of despair, or the silence of death. . . . 

Shakspeare's imagination is of the same plastic kind as his conception of 
character or passion. 'It glances from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven.' 
Its movement is rapid and devious. It unites the most opposite extremes: or, 
as Puck says, in boasting of his own feats, 'puts a girdle round the earth in 
forty minutes*. He seems always hurrying from his subject, even while 
describing it, but the stroke, like the lightning's, is sure as it is sudden. He 
takes the widest possible range, but from that very range he has his choice of 
the greatest variety and aptitude of materials. He brings together images the 
most alike, but placed at the greatest distance from each other; that is, found 
in circumstances of the greatest dissimilitude. From the remoteness of his 
combinations, and the celerity with which they are effected, they coalesce 
the more indissolubly together. The more the thoughts are strangers to each 
other, and the longer they have been kept asunder, the more intimate does 
their union seem to. become. Their felicity is equal to their force. Their 
likeness is made more dazzling by their novelty. They startle, and take the 
fancy prisoner in the same instant. I will mention one or two which are very 
striking, and not much known, out of Troilus and Cressida. ^Eneas says to 

I ask that I may waken reverence, 
And on the cheek be ready with a blush 
Modest as morning, when she coldly eyes 
The youthful Phoebus. 

Ulysses urging Achilles to shew himself in the field, says 

No man is the lord of anything, 
Till he communicate his parts to others: 
Nor doth he of himself know them for aught, 
Till he behold them formed in the applause^ 


Where they're extended! which like an arch reverberates 
The voice again, or like a gate of steel, 
Fronting the sun, receives and renders back 
Its figure and its heat. 

Patroclus gives the indolent warrior the same advice. 

Rouse yourself; and the weak wanton Cupid 
Shall from your neck unloose his amorous fold, 
And like a dew-drop from the lion's mane 
Be shook to air. 

Shakspeare's language and versification are like the rest of him. He has a 
magic power over words: they come winged at his bidding; and seem to know 
their places. They are struck out at a heat, on the spur of the occasion, and 
have all the truth and vividness which arise from an actual impression of the 
objects. His epithets and single phrases are like sparkles, thrown off from an 
imagination, fired by the whirling rapidity of its own motion. His language 
is hieroglyphical. It translates thoughts into visible images. It abounds in 
sudden transitions and elliptical expressions. This is the source of his mixed 
metaphors, which are only abbreviated forms of speech. These, however, 
give no pain from long custom. They have, in fact, become idioms in the 
language. They are the building, and not the scaffolding to thought. We 
take the meaning and effect of a well-known passage entire, and no more 
stop to scan and spell out the particular words and phrases, than the syllables 
of which they are composed. In trying to recollect any other author, one 
sometimes stumbles, in case of failure, on a word as good. In Shakspeare, 
any other word but the true one, is sure to be wrong. If any body, for in- 
stance, could not recollect the words of the following description, 

Light thickness, 
And the crow makes wing to the rooky wood, 

he would be greatly at a loss to substitute others for them equally expressive 
of the feeling. These remarks, however, are strictly applicable only to the 
impassioned parts of Shakspeare's language, which flowed from the warmth 
and originality of his imagination, and were his own. The language used for 
prose conversation and ordinary business is sometimes technical, and in- 
volved in the affectation of the time. Compare, for example, Othello's apology 
to the senate, relating 'his whole course of love', with some of the preceding 
parts relating to his appointment, and the official dispatches from Cyprus. 
In this respect, 'the business of the state does him offence'. His versification 
is no less powerful, sweet, and varied. It has every occasional excellence, of 
sullen intricacy, crabbed and perplexed, or of the smoothest and loftiest 
expansion from the ease and familiarity of measured conversation to the 
Jyrical sounds 

Of ditties highly penned, 
Sung by a fair queen in a summer's bower, 
}Vith ravishing division to her luj:e. 


It is the only blank verse in the language, except Milton's, that for itself is 
readable. It is not stately and uniformly swelling like his, but varied and 
broken by the inequalities of the ground it has to pass over in its uncertain 

And so by many winding nooks it strays, 
With willing sport to the wild ocean. 

It remains to speak of the faults of Shakspeare. They are not so many or 
so great as they have been represented; what they are, are chiefly owing to 
the following causes: The universality of his genius was, perhaps, a disad- 
vantage to his single works; the variety of his resources, sometimes diverting 
him from applying them to the utmost effectual purposes. He might be said 
to combine the powers of ^Eschylus and Aristophanes, of Dante and Rabelais, 
in his own mind. If he had been only half what he was, he would perhaps 
have appeared greater. The natural ease and indifference of his temper 
made him sometimes less scrupulous than he might have been. He is relaxed 
and careless in critical places; he is in earnest throughout only in Timon, 
Macbeth, and Lear. Again, he had no models of acknowledged excellence 
constantly in view to stimulate his efforts, and by all that appears, no love of 
fame. He wrote for the 'great vulgar and the small', in his time, not for 
posterity. If Queen Elizabeth and the maids of honour kughed heartily at 
his worst jokes, and the catcalls in the gallery were silent at his best passages, 
he went home satisfied, and slept the next night well. He did not trouble 
himself about Voltaire's criticisms. He was willing to take advantage of the 
ignorance of the age in many things; and if his plays pleased others, not to 
quarrel with them himself. His very facility of production would make him 
set less value on his own excellences, and not care to distinguish nicely be- 
tween what he did well or ill. His blunders in chronology and geography do 
not amount to above half a dozen, and they are offences against chronology 
and geography, not against poetry. As to the unities, he was right in setting 
them at defiance. He was fonder of puns than became so great a man. His 
barbarisms were those of his age. His genius was his own. He had no objec- 
tion to float down with the stream of common taste and opinion: he rose 
above it by his own buoyancy, and an impulse which he could not keep under, 
in spite of himself or others, and *his delights did shew most dolphin-like'. 

He had an equal genius for comedy and tragedy; and his tragedies are 
better than his comedies, because tragedy is better than comedy. His female 
characters, which have been found fault with as insipid, are the finest in the 
world. Lastly, Shakspeare was the least of a coxcomb of any one that evef 
lived, and much of a gentleman. 

DB QUINCEY. (On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth. 1823.) 

From my boyish days I had always felt a great perplexity on one point in 
Macbeth. It was this: the knocking at the gate, which succeeds to the murder 
of Duncan, produced to my feelings an effect for which I never could account. 


The effect was, that it reflected back upon the murderer a peculiar awfulness 
and a depth of solemnity; yet, however obstinately I endeavoured with my 
understanding to comprehend this, for many years I never could see why it 
should produce such an effect. 

Here I pause for one moment, to exhort the reader never to pay any atten- 
tion to his understanding, when it stands in opposition to any other faculty 
of his mind. The mere understanding, however useful and indispensable, is 
the meanest faculty in the human mind, and the most to be distrusted; and 
yet the great majority of people trust to nothing else, which may do for 
ordinary life, but not for philosophical purposes. . . . 

But to return from this digression, my understanding could furnish no 
reason why the knocking at the gate in Macbeth should produce any effect, 
direct or reflected. In fact, my understanding said positively that it could 
not produce any effect. But I knew better; I felt that it did; and I waited and 
clung to the problem until further knowledge should enable me to solve it. 
At length, in 1812, Mr. Williams made his dtbut on the stage of Ratcliffe 
Highway, and executed those unparalleled murders which have procured for 
him such a brilliant and undying reputation. . . . Now it will be remembered, 
that in the first of these murders (that of the Marrs), the same incident (of 
a knocking at the door, soon after the work of extermination was complete) 
did actually occur, which the genius of Shakspeare has invented; and all good 
judges, and the most eminent dilettanti, acknowledged the felicity of Shak- 
spere's suggestion, as soon as it was actually realized. Here, then, was a fresh 
proof that I was right in relying on my own feeling, in opposition to my 
understanding; and I again set myself to study the problem; at length I 
solved it to my own satisfaction, and my solution is this. Murder, in ordinary 
cases, where the sympathy is wholly directed to the case of the murdered 
person, is an incident of coarse and vulgar horror; and for this reason, that 
it flings the interest exclusively upon the natural but ignoble instinct by 
which we cleave to life; an instinct which, as being indispensable to the 
primal law of self-preservation, is the same in kind (though different in 
degree) amongst all living creatures: this instinct, therefore, because it 
annihilates all distinctions, and degrades the greatest of men to the level of 
'the poor beetle that we tread on', exhibits human nature in its most abject 
and humiliating attitude. Such an attitude would little serve the purposes of 
the poet. What then must he do? He must throw the interest on the murderer. 
Our sympathy must be with him (of course I mean a sympathy of compre- 
hension, a sympathy by which we enter into his feelings, and are made to 
understand them, not a sympathy of pity or approbation). In the murdered 
person, all strife of thought, all flux and reflux of passion and of purpose, are 
crushed by one overwhelming panic; the fear of instant death smites him 
'with its petrific mace'. But in the murderer, such a murderer as a poet will 
condescend to, there must be raging some great storm of passion jealousy, 
ambition, vengeance, hatred which will create a hell within him; and into 
this hell we are to look. 

In Macbeth, for the sake of gratifying his own enormous and teeming 
faculty of creation, Shakspere has introduced two murderers: and, as usual in 


his hands, they are remarkably discriminated: but, though in Macbeth the 
strife of mind is greater than in his wife, the tiger spirit not so awake, and his 
feelings caught chiefly by contagion from her, yet, as both were finally 
involved in the guilt of the murder, the murderous mind of necessity is finally 
to be presumed in both. This was to be expressed; and on its own account, 
as well as to make it a more proportionable antagonist to the unoffending 
nature of their victim, 'the gracious Duncan', and adequately to expound 'the 
deep damnation of his taking off', this was to be expressed with peculiar 
energy. We were to be made to feel that the human nature, /'.*., the divine 
nature of love and mercy, spread through the hearts of all creatures, and 
seldom utterly withdrawn from man was gone, vanished, extinct; and that 
the fiendish nature had taken its pkce. And, as this effect is marvellously 
accomplished in the dialogues and soliloquies themselves, so it is finally con- 
summated by the expedient under consideration; and it is to this that I now 
solicit the reader's attention. If the reader has ever witnessed a wife, daughter, 
or sister in a fainting fit, he may chance to have observed that the most 
affecting moment in such a spectacle is that in which a sigh and a stirring 
announce the recommencement of suspended life. Or, if the reader has ever 
been present in a vast metropolis, on the day when some great national idol 
was carried in funeral pomp to his grave, and chancing to walk near the 
course through which it passed, has felt powerfully in the silence and deser- 
tion of the streets, and in the stagnation of ordinary business, the deep interest 
which at that moment was possessing the heart of man if all at once he should 
hear the death-like stillness broken up by the sound of wheels rattling away 
from the scene, and making known that the transitory vision was dissolved, 
he will be aware that at no moment was his sense of the complete suspension 
and pause in ordinary human concerns so full and affecting, as at that moment 
when the suspension ceases, and the goings-on of human life are suddenly 
resumed. All action in any direction is best expounded, measured, and made 
apprehensible, by reaction. Now apply this to the case in Macbeth. Here, as 
I have said, the retiring of the human heart, and the entrance of the fiendish 
heart was to be expressed and made sensible. Another world has stept in; 
and the murderers are taken out of the region of human things, human 
purposes, human desires. They are transfigured: Lady Macbeth is 'unsexed'; 
Macbeth has forgot that he was born of woman; both are conformed to the 
image of devils; and the world of devils is suddenly revealed. But how shall 
this be conveyed and made palpable? In order that a new world may step 
in, this world must for a time disappear. The murderers, and the murder 
must be insulated cut off by an immeasurable gulf from the ordinary tide 
and succession of human affairs locked up and sequestered in some deep 
recess; we must be made sensible that the world of ordinary life is suddenly 
arrested laid asleep tranced racked into a dreadful armistice; time must 
be annihilated; relation to things without abolished; and all must pass self- 
withdrawn into a deep syncope and suspension of earthly passion. Hence it 
is, that when the deed is done, when the work of darkness is perfect, then the 
world of darkness passes away like a pageantry in the clouds: the knocking 
at the gate is heard; and it makes known audibly that the reaction has com- 


menced; the human has made its reflux upon the fiendish; the pulses of" life 
are beginning to beat again; and the re-establishment of the goings-on of the 
world in which we live, first makes us profoundly sensible of the awful 
parenthesis that had suspended them. 

O mighty poet! Thy works are not as those of other men, simply and 
merely great works of art; but are also like the phenomena of nature, like the 
sun and the sea, the stars and the flowers; like frost and snow, rain and dew, 
hail-storm and thunder, which are to be studied with entire submission of 
our own faculties, and in the perfect faith that in them there can be no too 
much or too little, nothing useless or inert but that, the farther we press in 
our discoveries, the more we shall see proofs of design and self-supporting 
arrangement where the careless eye had seen nothing but accident! 

LAN DOR. (Imaginary Conversations. 1824.) 

Southey. In so wide and untrodden a creation as that of Shakspeare, can 
we wonder or complain that sometimes we are bewildered and entangled in 
the exuberance of fertility? Dry-brained men upon the Continent, the trifling 
wits of the theatre, accurate however and expert calculators, tell us that his 
beauties are balanced by his faults. The poetical opposition, puffing for 
popularity, cry cheerily against them, his faults are balanced by Ms beauties; 
when, in reality, all the faults that ever were committed in poetry would be 
but as air to earth, if we could weigh them against one single thought or 
image, suclras almost every scene exhibits in every drama of this unrivalled 
genius. Do you hear me with patience? 

Parson. With more; although at Cambridge we rather discourse on Bacon, 
for we know him better. He was immeasurably a less wise man than Shak- 
speare, and not a wiser writer: for he knew his fellow-man only as he saw 
him in the street and in the court, which indeed is but a dirtier street and a 
narrower: Shakspeare, who also knew him there, knew him everywhere else, 
both as he was, and as he might be. 

Southey. There is as great a difference between Shakespeare and Bacon 
as between an American forest and a London timber-yard. In the timber- 
yard the materials are sawed and squared and set across: in the forest we have 
the natural form of the trees, all its growth, all its branches, all its leaves, all 
the mosses that grow about it, all the birds and insects that inhabit it; now 
deep shadows absorbing the whole wilderness; now bright bursting glades, 
with exuberant grass and flowers and fruitage; now untroubled skies; now 
terrific thunderstorms; everywhere multiformity, everywhere immensity. 

VICTOR HUGO. (Preface de Cromwell. 1827.) 

Le moment est venu oCi 1'^quilibre entre les deux principes (le grotesque 
et le sublime) va s'&ablir. Un homme, un poete roi, poeta swerano, comme 
Dante le dit d'Homere, va tout fixer. Les deux g&iies rivaux unissent leur 
double flamme, et de cette flamme jaillit Shakspeare. 


Nous voici parvenus a la sommite po&ique des temps modernes. Shak- 
speare, c'est le Drame; et le drame, qui font sous un mme souffle le grotesque 
et le sublime, le terrible et le bouffon, la trage*die et la come'die, le drame 
est le caractere propre de la troisieme ^poque de posie, de la litterature 
actuelle, . . . 

Les personnages de Tode sont des colosses: Adam, Cain, Noe*; ceux de 
T^popee sont des grants: Achille, Atre*e, Oreste; ceux du drame sont des 
hommes: Hamlet, Macbeth, Otello. L'ode vit de Tideal, Tepope*e du gran- 
diose, le drame du reel. Enfin, cette triple poe*sie d&oule de trois grandes 
sources: la Bible, Homere, Shakspeare. . . . 

Grice a lui, point d'impressions monotones. Tantdt il jette du rire, 
tantot de Phorreur dans la trag^die. II fera rencontrer Tapothicaire a Romeo, 
les trois sorcieres a Macbeth, les fossoyeurs a Hamlet. Parfois enfin il peut 
sans discordance, comme dans la scene du roi Lear et de son Fou, meler sa 
voix criarde aux plus sublimes, aux plus lugubres, aux plus reveuses musiques 
de Tame. 

Voila ce qu'a su faire entre tous, d'une maniere qui lui est propre et qu'il 
serait aussi inutile qu'impossible d'imiter, Shakspeare, ce dieu du theatre, en 
qui semblent r&mis, comme dans une trinite*, les trois grands g&iies carac- 
t&istiques de notre scne: Corneille, Moliere, Beaumarchais. . . . 

Et puis, encore une fois, il y a de cesfautes qui ne prennent racine que 
dans les chefs-d*c3euvre; il n'est donne qu'^ certains g&iies d'avoir certains 
d^fauts. On reproche & Shakspeare Tabus de la m^taphysique, Tabus de 
Tesprit, des scenes parasites, des obscenites, Temploi des friperies mytho- 
logiques de mode dans son temps, de Textravagance, de Tobscurit^, du 
mauvais gout, de Tenflure, des asp&ites de style. Le chene, cet arbre g&mt 
que nous comparions tout a Theure i Shakspeare et qui a plus d'une analogic 
avec lui, le chne a le port bizarre, les rameaux noueux, le feuillage sombre, 
T&orce apre et rude; mais il est le chene. 

CARLYLE. (On Heroes and Hero Worship. 1840.) 

Well: this is our poor Warwickshire Peasant, who rose to be Manager of 
a Playhouse, so that he could live without begging; whom the Earl of South- 
ampton cast some kind glances on; whom Sir Thomas Lucy, many thanks 
to him, was for sending to the Treadmill! We did not account him a god, 
like Odin, while he dwelt with us; on which point there were much to be 
said. But I will say rather, or repeat: In spite of the sad state Hero-worship 
now lies in, consider what this Shakespear has actually become among us. 
Which Englishman we ever made, in this land of ours, which million of 
Englishmen, would we not give up rather than the Stratford Peasant? There 
is no regiment of highest Dignitaries that we would sell him for. He is the 
grandest thing we have yet done. For our honour among foreign nations, as 
tn ornament to our English Household, what item is there that we would 


not surrender rather than him? Consider now, if they asked us, Will you 
give up your Indian Empire or your Shakspeare, you English; never have 
had any Indian Empire, or never have had any Shakspeare? Really it were 
a grave question. Official persons would answer doubtless in official lan- 
guage; but we, for our part too, should not we be forced to answer; Indian 
Empire, or no Indian Empire; we cannot do without Shakspeare! Indian 
Empire will go, at any rate, some day; but this Shakspeare does not go, he 
lasts forever with us; we cannot give up our Shakspeare! 

Nay, apart from spiritualities; and considering him merely as a real, market- 
able, tangibly useful possession. England, before long, this Island of ours, 
will hold but a small fraction of the English: in America, in New Holland, 
east and west to the very Antipodes, there will be a Saxondom covering great 
spaces of the Globe. And now, what is it that can keep all these together 
into virtually one Nation, so that they do not fall out and fight, but live at 
peace, in brotherlike intercourse, helping one another? This is justly re- 
garded as the greatest practical problem, the thing all manner of sovereignties 
and governments are here to accomplish: what is it that will accomplisl 
this? Acts of Parliament, administrative prime-ministers cannot. America is 
parted from us, so far as Parliament could part it. Call it not fantastic, for 
there is much reality in it: Here, I say, is an English King, whom no time 
or chance, Parliament or combination of Parliaments, can dethrone! This 
King Shakspeare, does not he shine, in crowned sovereignty, over us all, as 
the noblest, gentlest, yet strongest of rallying signs; /^destructible; really more 
valuable in that point of view, than any other means or appliance whatso- 
ever? We cap fancy him as radiant aloft over all the Nations of Englishmen, 
a thousand years hence. From Paramatta, from New York, wheresoever, 
under what sort of Parish-Constable soever, English men and women are, 
they will say to one another: 'Yes, this Shakspeare is ours: we produced him, 
we speak and think by him; we are of one blood and kind with him.' The 
most common-sense politician, too, if he pleases, may think of that. 

E. A. ABBOTT. (A Shakespearian Grammar, 1869.) 

It was an age of experiments, and the experiments were not always success- 
ful. . . . But for freedom, for brevity, and for vigour, Elizabethan is superior 
to modern English. Many of the words employed by Shakespeare and his 
contemporaries were the recent inventions of the age; hence they were used 
with a freshness and exactness to which we are strangers. Again, the spoken 
English so far predominated over the grammatical English that it materially 
influenced the rhythm of the verse, the construction of the sentence, and 
even sometimes the spelling of words. Hence sprung an artless and unlaboured 
harmony which seems the natural heritage of Elizabethan poets, whereas such 
harmony as is attained by modern authors frequently betrays a painful excess 
of art. Lastly, the use of some few still remaining inflections (the subjunctive 
in particular), the lingering sense of many other inflections that had passed 
away leaving behind something of the old versatility and audacity in the 


arrangement of the sentence, the stern subordination of grammar to terseness 
and clearness, and the consequent directness and naturalness of expression, 
all conspire to give a liveliness and wakefulness to Shakespearian English 
which are wanting in the grammatical monotony of the present day. We may 
perhaps claim some superiority in completeness and perspicuity for modern 
English, but if we were to appeal on this ground to the shade of Shakespeare 
in the words of Antonio in the Tempest, 

'Do you not hear us speak?' 
we might fairly be crushed with the reply of Sebastian 

'I do; and surely 
It is a sleepy language/ 

EDWARD DOWDEN. (Shakspere: His Mind and An. 1875.) 

Over the beauty of youth and the love of youth, there is shed, in these 
plays of Shakspere's final period, a clear yet tender luminousness, not else- 
where to be perceived in his writings. In his earlier plays, Shakspere writes 
concerning young men and maidens, their loves, their mirths, their griefs, as 
one who is among them, who has a lively, personal interest in their concerns, 
who can make merry with them, treat them familiarly, and, if need be, can 
mock them into good sense. There is nothing in these early plays wonderful, 
strangely beautiful, pathetic about youth and its joys and sorrows. In the 
histories and tragedies, as was to be expected, more massive, broader, or more 
profound objects of interest engaged the poet's imagination. But in these 
latest plays, the beautiful pathetic light is always present. There are the 
sufferers, aged, experienced, tried Queen Katharine, Prospero, Hermione. 
And over against these there are the children absorbed in their happy and 
exquisite egoism, Perdita and Miranda, Florizel and Ferdinand, and the 
boys of old Belarius. 

The same means to secure ideality for these figures, so young and beautiful, 
is in each case (instinctively perhaps rather than deliberately) resorted to. 
They are lost children princes or a princess, removed from the court, and 
its conventional surroundings, into some scene of rare, natural beauty. There 
are the lost princes Arviragus and Guiderius, among the mountains of 
Wales, drinking the free air, and offering their salutations to the risen sun. 
There is Perdita, the shepherdess-princess, 'queen of curds and cream', 
sharing with old and young her flowers, lovelier and more undying than 
those that Proserpina let fall from Dis's waggon. There is Miranda, (whose 
very name is significant of wonder), made up of beauty, and love, and womanly 
pity, neither courtly nor rustic, with the breeding of an island of enchant- 
ment, where Prospero is her tutor and protector, and Caliban her servant, 
and the prince of Naples her lover. In each of these plays we can see Shak- 
spere, as it were, tenderly bending over the joys and sorrows of youth. We 
recognise this rather through the total characterization, and through a feeling 



and a presence, than through definite incident and statement. But Some of 
this feeling escapes in the disinterested joy and admiration of old Belarius 
when he gazes at the princely youths, and in Camillo's loyalty to Florizel and 
Perdita; while it obtains more distinct expression in such a word as that which 
Prospero utters, when from a distance he watches with pleasure Miranda's 
zeal to relieve Ferdinand from his task of log-bearing: 'Poor worm, thou art 
infected.' . . . 

A thought which seems to run through the whole of The Tempest, ap- 
pearing here and there like a coloured thread in some web, is the thought 
that the true freedom of man consists in service. Ariel, untouched by human 
feeling, is panting for his liberty; in the last words of Prospero are promised 
his enfranchisement and dismissal to the elements. Ariel reverences his great 
master, and serves him with bright alacrity; but he is bound by none of our 
human ties, strong and tender, and he will rejoice when Prospero is to him 
as though he never were. To Caliban, a land-fish, with the duller elements 
of earth and water in his composition, but no portion of the higher elements, 
air and fire, though he receives dim intimations of a higher world, a-musical 
humming, or a twangling, or a voice heard in sleep to Caliban, service is 
slavery. He hates to bear his logs; he fears the incomprehensible power of 
Prospero, and obeys, and curses. The great master has usurped the rights of 
the brute-power Caliban. And when Stephano and Trinculo appear, ridicu- 
lously impoverished specimens of humanity, with their shallow understand- 
and vulgar greeds, this poor earth-monster is possessed by a sudden schwar- 
merei, a fanaticism for liberty! 

'Ban, 'ban, Ca'-Caliban, 
Has a new master; get a new man. 
Freedom, heydey! heydey, freedom! freedom! freedom, heydey, freedom! 

His new master also sings his impassioned hymn of liberty, the Marseillaise 
of the enchanted island: 

Flout 'em and scout 'em, 
And scout 'em and flout 'em; 
Thought is free. 

The leaders of the revolution, escaped from the stench and foulness of the 
horse-pond, King Stephano and his prime minister Trinculo, like too many 
leaders of the people, bring to an end their great achievement on behalf of 
liberty by quarrelling over booty, the trumpery which the providence of 
Prospero had placed in their way. Caliban, though scarce more truly wise 
or instructed than before, at least discovers his particular error of the day and 

What a thrice-double ass 

Was I, to take this drunkard for a god, 

And worship this dull fool! 

It must be admitted that Shakspere, if not, as Hartley Coleridge asserted, 
'a Tory and a gentleman', had within him some of the elements of English 


SWINBURNE. (A Study of Shakespeare. 1880.) 

We have now come to that point at the opening of the second stage in his 
work where the supreme genius of all time begins first to meddle with the 
mysteries and varieties of human character, to handle its finer and more 
subtle qualities, to harmonise its more untuned and jarring discords; giving 
here and thus the first proof of a power never shared in like measure by the 
mightiest among the sons of men, a sovereign and serene capacity to fathom 
the else unfathomable depths of spiritual nature, to solve its else insoluble 
riddles, to reconcile its else irreconcilable discrepancies. In first stage Shak- 
speare had dropped his plummet no deeper into the sea of the spirit of man 
than Marlowe had sounded before him; and in the channel of simple emotion 
no poet could cast surer line with steadier hand than he. Further down in 
the dark and fiery depths of human pain and mortal passion no soul could 
search than his who first rendered into speech the aspirations and the agonies 
of a ruined and revolted spirit. And until Shakespeare found in himself the 
strength of eyesight to read and the cunning of handiwork to render those 
wider diversities of emotion and those further complexities of character which 
lay outside the range of Marlowe, he certainly cannot be said to have outrun 
the winged feet, outstripped the fiery flight of his forerunner. In the heaven 
of our tragic song the first-born star on the forehead of its herald god was not 
outshone till the full midsummer meridian of that greater godhead before 
whom he was sent to prepare a pathway for the sun. Through all the fore- 
noon of our triumphant day, till the utter consummation and ultimate 
ascension of dramatic poetry incarnate and transfigured in the master-singer 
of the world, the quality of his tragedy was as that of Marlowe's, broad, 
single, and intense; large of hand, voluble of tongue, direct of purpose. With 
the dawn of its latter epoch a new power comes upon it, to find clothing and 
expression in new forms of speech and after a new style. The language has 
put off its foreign decorations of lyric and elegiac ornament; it has found 
already its infinite gain in the loss of those sweet superfluous graces which 
encumbered the march and enchained the utterance of its childhood, The 
figures which it invests are now no more the types of a single passion, the 
incarnations of a single thought. They now demand a scrutiny which tests 
the power of a mind and tries the value of a judgment; they appeal to some- 
thing more than the instant apprehension which sufficed to respond to the 
immediate claim of those that went before them. Romeo and Juliet were 
simply lovers, and their names bring back to us no further thought than of 
their love and the lovely sorrow of its end; Antony and Cleopatra shall be 
before all things lovers, but the thought of their love and its triumphant 
tragedy shall recall other things beyond number all the forces and ail the 
fortunes of mankind, all the chance and all the consequence that waited on 
their imperial passion, all the infinite variety of qualities and powers wrought 
together and welded into the frame and composition of that love which 
shook from end to end all nations and kingdoms of the earth. 


A. C. BRADLEY. (Shakespearean Tragedy. 1904.) 

A Shakespearean tragedy as so far considered may be called a story of 
exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate. But it is 
clearly much more than this, and we have now to regard it from another 
side. No amount of calamity which merely befell a man, descending from the 
clouds like lightning, or stealing from the darkness like pestilence, could 
alone provide the substance of its story. Job was the greatest of all the children 
of the east, and his afflictions were well-nigh more than he could bear; but 
even if we imagined them wearing him to death, that would not make his 
story tragic. Nor yet would it become so, in the Shakespearean sense, if the 
fire, and the great wind from the wilderness, and the torments of his flesh were 
conceived as sent by a supernatural power, whether just or malignant. The 
calamities of tragedy do not simply happen, nor are they sent; they proceed 
mainly from actions, and those the actions of men. 

We see a number of human beings pkced in certain circumstances; and 
we see, arising from the co-operation of their characters in these circum- 
stances, certain actions. These actions beget others, and these others beget 
others again, until this series of inter-connected deeds leads by an apparently 
inevitable sequence to a catastrophe. The effect of such a series on imagina- 
tion is to make us regard the sufferings which accompany it, and the catas- 
trophe in which it ends, not only or chiefly as something which happens to 
the persons concerned, but equally as something which is caused by them. 
This at least may be said of the principal persons, and, among them, of the 
hero, who always contributes in some measure to the disaster in which he 

This second aspect of tragedy evidently differs greatly from the first. Men, 
from this point of view, appear to us primarily as agents, 'themselves the 
authors of their proper woe'; and our fear and pity, though they will not 
cease or diminish, will be modified accordingly. We are now to consider 
this second aspect, remembering that it too is only one aspect, and additional 
to the first, not a substitute for it. 

The 'story* or 'action* of a Shakespearean tragedy does not consist, of 
course, solely of human actions or deeds; but the deeds are the predominant 
factor. And these deeds are, for the most part, actions in the full sense of 
the word; not things done "tween sleep and wake', but acts or omissions 
thoroughly expressive of the doer, characteristic deeds. The centre of the 
tragedy, therefore, may be said with equal truth to lie in action issuing from 
character, or in character issuing in action. 

Shakespeare's main interest ky here. To say that it ky in mere character, 
or was a psychological interest, would be a great mistake, for he was dramatic 
to the tips of his fingers. It is possible to find places where he has given a 
certain indulgence to his love of poetry, and even to his turn for general 
reflections; but it would be very difficult, and in his later tragedies perhaps 
impossible, to detect passages where he has allowed such freedom to the 


interest in character apart from action. But for the opposite extreme, for the 
abstraction of mere 'plot* (which is a very different thing from the tragic 
'action'), for the kind of interest which predominates in a novel like The 
Woman in White, it is clear that he cared even less. I do not mean that this 
interest is absent from his dramas; but it is subordinate to others, and it is so 
interwoven with them that we are rarely conscious of it apart, and rarely feel 
in any great strength the half-intellectual, half-nervous excitement of follow- 
ing an ingenious complication. What we do feel strongly, as a tragedy ad- 
vances to its close, is that the calamities and catastrophe follow inevitably 
from the deeds of men, and that the main source of these deeds is character. 
The dictum that, with Shakespeare, 'character is destiny* is no doubt an 
exaggeration, and one that may mislead (for many of his tragic personages, if 
they had not met with peculiar circumstances, would have escaped a tragic 
end, and might even have lived fairly untroubled lives); but it is the exaggera- 
tion of a vital truth. 

SIR WALTER RALEIGH. (Shakespeare. 1907.) 

The vision, as it was seen by Shakespeare, is so solemn, and terrible, and 
convincing in its reality, that there are few, perhaps, among his readers, who 
have not averted or covered their eyes. 'I might relate', says Johnson, 'that 
I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether 
I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to 
revise them as an editor.' For the better part of a century the feelings of play- 
goers were spared by alterations in the acting version. With readers of the 
pky other protective devices have found favour. These events, they have 
been willing to believe, are a fable designed by Shakespeare to illustrate the 
possible awful consequences of error and thoughtlessness. Such things never 
happened; or, if they happened, at least we can be careful, and they never 
need happen again. So the reader takes refuge in morality, from motives not 
of pride, but of terror, because morality is within man's reach. The breaking 
of a bridge from faulty construction excites none of the panic fear that is 
produced by an earthquake. 

But here we have to do with an earthquake, and good conduct is of no 
avail. Morality is not denied; it is overwhelmed and tossed aside by the in- 
rush of the sea. There is no moral lesson to be read, except accidentally, in 
any of Shakespeare's tragedies. They deal with greater things than man; with 
powers and passions, elemental forces, and dark abysses of suffering; with the 
central fire, which breaks through the thin crust of civilisation, and makes a 
splendour in the sky above the blackness of ruined homes. Because he is a 
poet, and has a true imagination, Shakespeare knows how precarious is man's 
tenure of the soil, how deceitful are his quiet orderly habits and his prosaic 
speech. At any moment, by the operation of chance, or fate, these things 
may be broken up, and the world given over once more to the forces that 
struggled in chaos. 

It is not true to say that in these tragedies character is destiny. Othello 

is not a jealous man; he is a man carried off his feet, wave-drenched and blinded 
by the passion of love. Macbeth is not a murderous politician; he is a man 
possessed. Lear no doubt has faults; he is irritable and exacting, and the price 
that he pays for these weaknesses of old age is that they let loose hell. Hamlet 
is sensitive, thoughtful, generous, impulsive, *a pure, noble, and most moral 
nature* yet he does not escape the extreme penalty, and at the bar of a false 
criticism he too is made guilty of the catastrophe. But Shakespeare, who 
watched his heroes, awestruck, as he saw them being drawn into the gulf, 
passed no such judgment on them. In his view of it, what they suffer is out 
of all proportion to what they do and are. They are presented with a choice, 
and the essence of the tragedy is that choice is impossible. Coriolanus has to 
choose between the pride of his country and the closest of human affections. 
Antony stands poised between love and empire. Macbeth commits a foul 
crime; but Shakespeare's tragic stress is laid on the hopelessness of the dilemma 
that follows, and his great pity for mortality makes the crime a lesser thing. 
Hamlet fluctuates between the thought which leads nowhither and the action 
which is narrow and profoundly unsatisfying. Brutus, like Coriolanus, has 
to choose between his highest political hopes and the private ties of humanity. 
Lear's misdoing is forgotten in the doom that falls upon him; after his fit 
of jealous anger he awakes to find that he has no further choice, and is 
driven into the wilderness, a scapegoat for mankind. Othello but the story 
of Othello exemplifies a further reach of Shakespeare's fearful irony 
Othello, like Hamlet, suffers for his very virtues, and the noblest qualities of 
his mind are made the instruments of his crucifixion. 

TOLSTOY. (Shakespeare and the Drama. 1906. Trans. Aylmer Maude.) 

I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I had 
expected to receive a great esthetic pleasure, but on reading, one after another, 
the works regarded as his best, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and 
Macbeth, not only did I not experience pleasure but I felt an insuperable 
repulsion and tedium, and a doubt whether I lacked sense, since I considered 
works insignificant and simply bad, which are regarded as the summit of 
perfection by the whole educated world; or whether the importance that 
educated world attributed to Shakespeare's works lacks sense. My per- 
plexity was increased by the fact that I have always keenly felt the beauties 
of poetry in all its forms: why then did Shakespeare's works, recognised by 
the whole world as works of artistic genius, not only fail to please me, but 
even seem detestable? I long distrusted my judgment, and to check my con- 
clusions, during fifty years, I repeatedly set to work to read Shakespeare in all 
possible forms in Russian, in English, and in German in Schlegel's trans 
lation, as I was advised to. I read the tragedies, comedies, and historical 
plays, several times over, and I invariably experienced the same feelings 
repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. Now, before writing this article, as 
an old man of 75, wishing once more to check my conclusions, I have again 
read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the Henrys, 


Troi/us and Cresslda, The Tempest, and Cymbellne, etc., and have experienced 
the same feeling still more strongly, no longer with perplexity but with a 
firm indubitable conviction that the undisputed fame Shakespeare enjoys as 
a great genius, which makes writers of our time imitate him and readers and 
spectators, distorting their esthetic and ethical sense, seek non-existent 
qualities in him, is a great evil as every falsehood is. ... 

But not only are the characters in Shakespeare's plays placed irk tragic 
positions which are quite impossible, do not result from the course of events, 
and are inappropriate to the period and the place, but they also behave in 
a way not in accord with their own definite characters and that is quite 
arbitrary. . . . 

From the very beginning of reading any of Shakespeare's plays I was at 
once convinced that it was perfectly evident that he is lacking in the chief, 
if not the sole, means of portraying character, which is individuality of 
language that each person should speak in a way suitable to his own charac- 
ter. That is lacking in Shakespeare. All his characters speak, not a language 
of their own but always one and the same Shakespearean, affected, unnatural 
language, which not only could they not speak, but which no real people 
could ever have spoken anywhere. . . . 

Shakespeare's characters continually do and say what is not merely un- 
natural to them but quite unnecessary. I will not cite examples of this, for I 
think that a man who does not himself perceive this striking defect in all 
Shakespeare's dramas will not be convinced by any possible examples or 
proofs. It is sufficient to read King Lear alone, with the madness, the murders, 
the plucking out of eyes, Gloucester's jump, the poisonings, and the torrents 
of abuse not to mention Pericles, A Winter's Tale or The Tempest, to 
convince oneself of this. Only a man quite devoid of the sense of proportion 
and taste could produce the types of Titus Andronlcus and Troi/us and 
Cresslda, and so mercilessly distort the old drama of King Lear. . . . 

The content of Shakespeare's plays, as is seen by the explanations of his 
greatest admirers, is the lowest, most vulgar view of life, which regards the 
external elevation of the great ones of the earth as a genuine superiority; 
despises the crowd, that is to say, the working classes; and repudiates not only 
religious, but even any humanitarian, efforts directed towards the alteration 
of the existing order of society. 

The second condition is also absent in Shakespeare except in his handling 
of scenes in which a movement of feeling is expressed. There is in his works 
a lack of naturalness in the situations, the characters lack individuality of 
speech, and a sense of proportion is also wanting, without which such works 
cannot be artidtic. 

The third and chief condition sincerity is totally absent in all Shake- 
speare's works. One sees in all of them an intentional artificiality; it is obvious 
that he is not in earnest but is playing with words. . . . 

There is only one explanation of this astonishing fame: it is one of those 
epidemic suggestions to which people always have been and are liable. . . . 

So that the first cause of Shakespeare's fame was that the Germans wanted 
to oppose something freer and more alive to the French drama of which they 


were tired, and which was really dull and cold. The second cause was that 
the young German writers required a model for their own dramas. The 
third and chief cause was the activity of the learned and zealous esthetic 
German critics who lacked esthetic feeling and formulated the theory of 
objective art, that is to say, deliberately repudiated the religious essence of 
the drama. . . . 

A series of accidents brought it about that Goethe at the beginning of the 
last century, being the dictator of philosophic thought and esthetic laws, 
praised Shakespeare; the esthetic critics caught up that praise and began to 
write their long foggy erudite articles, and the great European public began 
to be enchanted by Shakespeare. The critics, responding to this public 
interest, laboriously vied with one another in writing fresh and fresh articles 
about Shakespeare, and readers and spectators were still further confirmed in 
their enthusiasm, and Shakespeare's fame kept growing and growing like a 
snowball, until in our time it has attained a degree of insane laudation that 
obviously rests on no other basis than suggestion. . . . 

But above all, having assimilated that immoral view of life which permeates 
all Shakespeare's works he (a young man) loses the capacity to distinguish 
between good and evil. And the error of extolling an insignificant, inartistic, 
and not only non-moral but plainly immoral writer, accomplishes its per- 
nicious work. 

That is why I think that the sooner people emancipate themselves from 
this false worship of Shakespeare the better it will be first because people 
when they are* freed from this falsehood will come to understand that a drama 
which has no religious basis is not only not an important or good thing, as is 
now supposed, but is a most trivial and contemptible affair. And having 
understood this they will have to search for and work out a new form of 
modern drama a drama which will serve for the elucidation and confirma- 
tion in man of the highest degree of religious consciousness. And secondly, 
because people when themselves set free from this hypnotic state, will under- 
stand that the insignificant and immoral works of Shakespeare and his imita- 
tors, aiming only at distracting and amusing the spectators, cannot possibly 
serve to teach the meaning of life, but that, as long as there is no real religious 
drama, guidance for life must be looked for from other sources. 

LYTTON STRACHEY. (Landmarks In French Literature^) 

English dramatic literature is, of course, dominated by Shakespeare; and 
it is almost inevitable that an English reader should measure the value of 
other poetic drama by the standards which Shakespeare has already implanted 
in his mind. But, after all, Shakespeare himself was but the product and the 
crown of a particular dramatic convention; he did not compose his plays 
according to an ideal pattern; he was an Elizabethan, working so consistently 
according to the methods of his age and country that, as we know, he passed 
'unguessed at' among his contemporaries. But what were these methods and 
this convention? To judge of them properly we must look, not at Shake- 


speare's masterpieces, for they are transfused and consecrated* with the light 
of transcendent genius, but at the average pky of an ordinary Elizabethan 
playwright, or even at one of the lesser works of Shakespeare himself. And, 
if we look here, it will become apparent that the dramatic tradition of the 
Elizabethan age was an extremely faulty one. It allowed, it is true, of great 
richness, great variety, and the sublimest heights of poetry; but it also allowed 
of an almost incredible looseness of structure and vagueness of purpose, of 
dullness, of insipidity, and of bad taste. The genius of the Elizabethans was 
astonishing, but it was genius struggling with difficulties which were well- 
nigh insuperable; and, as a matter of fact, in spite of their amazing poetic 
and dramatic powers, their work has vanished from the stage, and is to-day 
familiar to but a few of the lovers of English literature. Shakespeare alone 
was not subdued to what he worked in. His overwhelming genius harmonised 
and ennobled the discordant elements of the Elizabethan tradition, and in- 
vested them not only with immortality, but with immortality understanded 
of the people. His greatest works will continue to be acted and applauded 
so long as there is a theatre in England. But even Shakespeare himself was 
not always successful. One has only to look at some of his secondary plays 
at Troilus and Cressida, for instance, or Timon of Athens to see at once 
how inveterate and malignant were the diseases to which the dramatic methods 
of the Elizabethans were a prey. Wisdom and poetry are intertwined with 
flatness and folly; splendid situations drift purposeless to impotent conclusions; 
brilliant psychology alternates with the grossest indecency and the feeblest 
puns. *O matter and impertinency mixed!' one is inclined to exclaim at such 
a spectacle. And then one is blinded once more by the glamour of Lear and 
Othello\ one forgets the defective system in the triumph of a few exceptions, 
and all plays seem intolerable unless they were written on the principle which 
produced Pericles and Titus Andronicus and the whole multitude of dis- 
torted and disordered works of genius of the Elizabethan age. 

Racine's principles were, in fact, the direct opposite of these. 'Compre- 
hension* might be taken as the watchword of the Elizabethans; Racine's was 
'concentration'. His great aim was to produce, not an extraordinary nor a 
complex work of art, but a flawless one; he wished to be all matter and no 
impertinency. His conception of a drama was of something swift, simple, 
inevitable; an action taken at the crisis, with no ^redundancies however 
interesting, no complications however suggestive, no irrelevances however 
beautiful but plain, intense, vigorous, and splendid with nothing but its 
own essential force. Nor can there be any doubt that Racine's view of what 
a drama should be has been justified by the subsequent history of the stage. 
The Elizabethan tradition has died out or rather it has left the theatre, and 
become absorbed in the modern novel; and it is the drama of crisis such as 
Racine conceived it which is now the accepted model of what a stage-play 
should be. And, in this connection, we may notice an old controversy, which 
still occasionally raises its head in the waste places of criticism the question 
of the three unities. In this controversy both sides have been content to 
repeat arguments which are in reality irrelevant and futile. It is irrelevant to 
consider whether the unities were or were not prescribed by Aristotle; and 


it is futile to ask whether the sense of probability is or is not more shocked 
by the scenic representation of an action of thirty-six hours than by one of 
twenty-four. The value of the unities does not depend either upon their 
traditional authority or to use the French expression upon their vrai- 
semblance. Their true importance lies simply in their being a powerful means 
towards concentration. Thus it is clear that in an absolute sense they are 
neither good nor bad; their goodness or badness depends upon the kind of 
result which the dramatist is aiming at. If he wishes to produce a drama of 
the Elizabethan type a drama of comprehension which shall include as 
much as possible of the varied manifestations of human life, then obviously 
the observance of the unities must exercise a restricting and narrowing 
influence which would be quite out of pkce. On the other hand, in a drama 
of crisis they are not only useful but almost inevitable. If a crisis is to be a 
real crisis it must not drag on indefinitely; it must not last for more than a 
few hours, or to put a rough limit for more than a single day; in fact, 
the unity of time must be preserved. Again, if the action is to pass quickly, 
it must pass in one place, for there will be no time for the movement of the 
characters elsewhere; thus the unity of place becomes a necessity. Finally, 
if the mind is to be concentrated to the full upon a particular crisis, it must 
not be distracted by side issues; the event, and nothing but the event, must 
be displayed; in other words, the dramatist will not succeed in his object 
unless he employs the unity of action. 

T. S. ELIOT. (Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca. 1927.) 

The last few years have witnessed a number of recrudescences of Shake- 
speare. There is the fatigued Shakespeare, a retired Anglo-Indian, presented 
by Mr. Lytton Strachey; there is the messianic Shakespeare, bringing a new 
philosophy and a new system of yoga, presented by Mr. Middleton Murry; 
and there is the ferocious Shakespeare, a furious Samson, presented by Mr. 
Wyndham Lewis in his interesting book, The Lion and the Fox. On the 
whole, we may all agree that these manifestations are beneficial. In any case, 
so important as that of Shakespeare, it is good that we should from time to 
time change our minds. The last conventional Shakespeare is banished from 
the scene, and a variety of unconventional Shakespeares take his place. 
About anyone so great as Shakespeare, it is probable that we can never be 
right; and if we can never be right, it is better that we should from time to 
time change our way of being wrong. Whether Truth ultimately prevails is 
doubtful and has never been proved; but it is certain that nothing is more 
effective in driving out error than a new error. Whether Mr. Strachey, or 
Mr. Murry, or Mr. Lewis, is any nearer to the truth of Shakespeare than 
Rymer, Morgann, or Webster, or Johnson, is uncertain; they are all certainly 
more sympathetic in this year 1927 than Coleridge, or Swinburne, or 
Dowden. If they do not give us the real Shakespeare if there is one they 
at least give us several up-to-date Shakespeares. If the only way to prove 
that Shakespeare did not feel and think exactly as people felt and thought in 


181 5, or in 1860, or in 1880, is to show that he felt and thought as we felt 
and thought in 1927, then we must accept gratefully that alternative. . . . 

That Shakespeare deliberately took a View of life' from Seneca there 
seems to be no evidence whatever. 

Nevertheless, there is, in some of the great tragedies of Shakespeare, a 
new attitude. It is not the attitude of Seneca, but it is derived from Seneca; 
it is slightly different from anything that can be found in French tragedy, in 
Corneille or in Racine; it is modern, and it culminates, if there is ever any 
culmination, in the attitude of Nietzsche. I cannot say that it is Shakespeare's 
philosophy'. Yet, many people have lived by it; though it may only have 
been Shakespeare's instinctive recognition of something of theatrical utility. 
It is the attitude of self-dramatization assumed by some of Shakespeare's 
heroes at moments of tragic intensity. It is not peculiar to Shakespeare; it is 
conspicuous in Chapman: Bussy, Clermont and Biron, all die in this way. 
Marston one of the most interesting and least explored of all the Eliza- 
bethans uses it; and Marston and Chapman were particularly Senecan. 
But Shakespeare, of course, does it very much better than any of the others, 
and makes it somehow more integral with the human nature of his characters. 
It is less verbal, more real. . . . 

It is this general notion of 'thinking' that I would challenge. One has the 
difficulty of having to use the same words for different things. We say, in a 
vague way, that Shakespeare, or Dante, or Lucretius, is a poet who thinks, 
and that Swinburne is a poet who does not think, even that Tennyson is a 
poet who does not think. But what we really mean is not a difference in 
quality of thought, but a difference in quality of emotion. The poet who 
'thinks' is merely the poet who can express the emotional equivalent of 
thought. But he is not necessarily interested in the thought itself. We talk 
as if thought was precise and emotion was vague. In reality there is precise 
emotion and there is vague emotion. To express precise emotion requires 
as great intellectual power as to express precise thought. But by 'thinking' I 
mean something very different from anything that I find in Shakespeare. 
Mr. Lewis, and other champions of Shakespeare as a great philosopher, have 
a great deal to say about Shakespeare's power of thought, but they fail to 
show that he thought to any purpose; that he had any coherent view of life, 
or that he recommended any procedure to follow. 'We possess a great deal 
of evidence', says Mr. Lewis, 'as to what Shakespeare thought of military 
glory and martial events.' Do we? Or rather, did Shakespeare think anything 
at all? He was occupied with turning human actions into poetry. 

I would suggest that none of the plays of Shakespeare has a 'meaning', 
although it would be equally false to say that a play of Shakespeare is mean- 
ingless. All great poetry gives the illusion of a view of life. When we enter 
into the world of Homer, or Sophocles, or Virgil, or Dante, or Shakespeare, 
we incline to believe that we are apprehending something that can be ex- 
pressed intellectually; for every precise emotion tends towards intellectual 


E. E. STOLL. (Art and Artifice in Shakespeare. 1934.) 

Drama, therefore, if we are to judge of it from the foregoing, is no 'docu- 
ment'. (Not a social document, of course that question has not here arisen 
but not even a 'human' one.) Most of the misinterpretation of it, whether 
that of Shakespeare or of ^Eschylus, has been more or less due to our taking 
it to be such. Whether as story or as character, it is, as Mr. Bridges says of 
Shakespeare's alone, 'not nature in the sense of being susceptible of the same 
analysis as that by which the assumptions of science would investigate nature'; 
and the tendency so to conceive of it is really the same spirit of literalism that 
prompted the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century critics to establish the canon 
of the unities the consideration that they afford, not (as they do) a more 
compact and effective structure, but a greater vrauemblance. The human 
figures certainly are not, as a recent writer has declared them to be, 'copied 
with little alteration from the population of the world'; and thank Heaven 
that they are not. Still less are they examples or illustrations of our psychology. 
But they are not always even perfect copies of the inner vision, that 'higher 
reality' which, as Goethe observes, great art represents. They are a com- 
promise, an accommodation, a simplification, to suit the structure and par- 
ticular conception of the whole. 'The spirit of man cannot be satisfied but 
with truth, or at least verisimility', says Dryden, echoing Aristotle; but only 
verisimility is what art, drama, and more especially, among great drama, that 
of Shakespeare, bestow. It is not reality, or even perfect consistency, but an 
illusion, and, above all, an illusion whereby the spirit of man shall be moved. 
The greatest of dramatists is careful, not so much for the single character, as 
for the drama; indeed, he observes not so much the probabilities of the action, 
or the psychology of the character, as the psychology of the audience, for 
whom both action and character are framed. Writing hastily, but impetu- 
ously, to be played, not read, he seizes upon almost every means of imita'tion 
and opportunity for excitement which this large liberty affords. For every- 
thing he would give qs, not only (in effect) life as we know it is, but (and 
far more) drama as we would have it be; yet remembers, no man so constantly, 
that the attention of his audience the liberty of his art has limits. Like all 
dramatists, he must have a situation; like all the greater dramatists, an intense 
one. He would, as would Dryden, 'work up the pity to a greater height'. 
Therefore, like them, he has, necessarily, had to start with premises or 
postulates, and provoke intrusions, human or super-human, whereby the 
hero, still keeping our sympathy, can be put in a plight. And just because of 
the largeness of the undertaking the whole story and an old one, many 
characters and situations, and times and places, not a few, and all the form 
and pressure, sound and colour, of existence he has necessarily had for 
consistency of illusion, swiftness of movement, and intensity of effect to 
contrive more audaciously and variously, and (in turn) to make such amends 
or adjustments as he could, sometimes even by artifices which are scarcely 
art. He evades and hedges, he manoeuvres and manipulates, he suppresses 
or obscures. But his most noble and effectual amends is positive his poetry. 
The premise sets him free for it pntcipitandui est liber spiritus and he 


walks not soberly afoot, like your philosopher, but flies. And Shakespeare is 
the greatest of dramatists because the illusion he offers is the widest and 
highest, the emotion he arouses the most irresistible and overwhelming. 

By poetry, an imaginative conquest, he works the wonder by rhythm 
and recurrence, acceleration and retardation, swelling and subsidence, and 
this in the structure, the rhetoric, or the metre; also (for obviously drama is 
not music) by the seizing and ordering of such thoughts and sentiments, 
such words and images, as belong together, though never together in this 
world before; and (above all) in the characters, by both the one process and 
the other and who knows by what other besides? as a vitalising, differen- 
tiating power. His imitation is creation; what with us is dull and solid fact, 
assumes, still recognizable, the potency and liberty of fiction. So it is, in 
some measure, with the Greeks as well, and with Racine and Ibsen, who 
one and all are poets, yet not in such signal and pre-eminent measure, not 
to such dramatic both airy and substantial effect. They have less amends 
to make, but less resources wherewith to make them. Shakespeare's characters, 
more unmistakably than anyone else's, are, from the outset, given voices, 
accents, of their own and not individual only, but beautiful a fact which 
inveigles us, throughout the play, and even (witness the critics) afterwards, 
into accepting, not them only, but also the incredible things that they not 
infrequently do. They speak like human beings, though none we know 
or hear of therefore they are; and then, if for nothing else, their story is 
'for the moment' credible. 

CAROLINE SPURGEON. (Shakespeare's Imagery. 1935.) 

It has not, so far as I know, ever yet been noticed that recurrent images 
play a part in raising, developing, sustaining, and repeating emotion in the 
tragedies, which is somewhat analogous to the action of a recurrent theme or 
'motif in a musical fugue or sonata, or in one of Wagner's operas. 

Perhaps, however, a more exact analogy to the function of Shakespeare's 
images in this respect is the unique work of another great artist, of the peculiar 
quality of which they constantly remind one, that is, Blake's illustrations to 
his prophetic books. These are not, for the most part, illustrations in the 
ordinary sense of the term, the translation by the artist of some incident in 
the narrative into a visual picture; they are rather a running accompaniment 
to the words in another medium, sometimes symbolically emphasizing or 
interpreting certain aspects of the thought, sometimes supplying frankly only 
decoration or atmosphere, sometimes grotesque and even repellent, vivid, 
strange, arresting, sometimes drawn with an almost unearthly beauty of form 
and colour. Thus, as the leaping tongues of flame which illuminate the pages 
of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell show the visual form which Blake's 
thought evoked in his mind, and symbolize for us the purity, the beauty, and 
the two-edged quality of life and danger in his words, so the recurrent images 
in Macbeth or Hamlet reveal the dominant picture or sensation and for 
Shakespeare the two are identical in terms of which he sees and feels the 


main problem or theme of the play, thus giving us an unerring clue to the 
way he looked at it, as well as a direct glimpse into the working of his mind 
and imagination. 

These dominating images are a characteristic of Shakespeare's work 
throughout, but whereas in the earlier plays they are often rather obvious 
and of set design, taken over in some cases with the story itself from a hint 
in the original narrative; in the later plays, and especially in the great tragedies, 
they are born of the emotions of the theme, and are, as in Macbeth, subtle, 
complex, varied, but intensely vivid and revealing; or as in Lear, so constant 
and all-pervading as to be reiterated, not only in the word-pictures, but also 
in the single words themselves. 

Any reader, of course, must be aware of certain recurrent symbolic imagery 
in Shakespeare, such as that of a tree and its branches, and of planting, lop- 
ping, or rooting up, which runs through the English historical plays; they 
are conscious of the imaginative effect of the animal imagery in Lear, or of 
the flash of explosives in Romeo and Juliet^ but it was not until the last few 
years, when in the course of an intensive study of Shakespeare's imagery I had 
listed and classified and card-indexed and counted every image in every play 
thrice over, that the actual facts as to these dominating pictures stared me in 
the face. 

I found that there is a certain range of images, and roughly a certain pro- 
portion of these, to be expected in every play, and that certain familiar 
categories, of nature, animals, and what one may call 'everyday' or 'domestic', 
easily come fir,st. But in addition to this normal grouping, I have found, 
especially in the tragedies, certain groups of images which, as it were, stick 
out in each particular play and immediately attract attention because they are 
peculiar either in subject or quantity, or both. 

These seem to form the floating image or images in Shakespeare's mind 
called forth by that particular play, and I propose now, as briefly as possible, 
just to look at the tragedies from the point of view of these groups of images 

In Romeo and Juliet the beauty and ardour of young love is seen by 
Shakespeare as the irradiating glory of sunlight and starlight in a dark world. 
The dominating image is light, every form and manifestation of it; the sun, 
moon, stars, fire, lightning, the flash of gunpowder, and the reflected light 
of beauty and of love; while by contrast we have night, darkness, clouds, 
rain, mist, and smoke. . . . 

In Hamlet, naturally, we find ourselves in an entirely different atmosphere, 
and if we look closely we see this is partly due to the number of images of 
sickness, disease, or blemish of the body in the play, and we discover that the 
idea of an ulcer or tumour, as descriptive of the unwholesome condition of 
Denmark morally, is, on the whole, the dominating one. 



IN the following pages the plays are printed in chronological order, or at 
least in an order which must approximate to that in which they were 
written. The sequence is, however, not absolutely certain: for instance, 
some would put Julius Ctesar before, and others after As You Like It and 
Twelfth Night, and it is difficult to place exactly The Taming of the Shrew, 
A IPs Well, and Tim on of Athens. There is no other play that can be dated 
as accurately as Henry V with its references to Essex's Irish expedition of 
1 599, but for most of the plays it is possible to fix dates between which they 
must have been written. For example, if a play is mentioned by Meres it 
must have been written before September yth, 1598, when his Palladis 
Tamia was registered; if it is not mentioned it is probable that it was written 
after that date. For the plays published as Quartos precise final dates are 
fixed by entries in the Stationers' Register, less precise ones by the year of 
publication on the title page. Other external evidence of final dates is afforded 
by the records of performances and by contemporary mention. Internal 
evidence fixing an initial date after which a play must have been written is 
sometimes given by topical allusions: for instance, the reference in King Lear 
to the eclipses of the sun and moon in the autumn of 1605. Where such 
evidence is meagre or lacking the date has to be decided on stylistic grounds, 
and this is where the research of nineteenth-century scholars into Shake- 
speare's verse has been invaluable and also where there is occasion for 

The evidence may be summarised as follows: 

Evidence that a play before a certain date: after a certain date: 
was written 

External: Mention by Meres. No mention by Meres. 

Other contemporary 


Record of performance. 
Entry in Stationers' 

Title page of Q. 

Internal: Style. Topical allusions. 


Thus Trot/us and Cressida is not mentioned by Meres and was registered on 
February 7th, 1603, and was probably written, therefore, between 1598 and 



the end of 1602; on stylistic grounds it is placed immediately after Hamlet. 
On the other hand there is no certain evidence for the date of The Taming 
of the Shrew. 

WRITTEN. Though the sequence as a whole is tolerably settled, it is not 
easy to fix exact dates of composition, and the years given must generally be 
taken as approximate: Macbeth* for instance, may have been written any 
time between 1606 and 1608. Before 1600 Shakespeare wrote an average 
of two plays a year, after 1600 only one play a year. 

PERFORMED. The most valuable records of early performances are those 
in Philip Henslowe's Diary between 1592 and 1594, when Shakespeare was 
writing for a number of companies in which Henslowe had an interest; and 
after 1594, when he wrote entirely for the Chamberlain's Company, in the 
Revels Accounts of Court performances in 1604-5 and 1611-12. 

S.R. This refers to the compulsory entry in the Stationers' Register 
before publication. All Shakespeare's plays that were issued as Quartos were 
entered, though not always before publication (see p. 201). The plays 
printed for the first time in the Folio, except King John and The Taming 
of the Shrew, were entered by Blount and Jaggard on November 8th, 1623 
(see p. 200). 

MERES. The Palladis Tamia of Francis Meres was registered on Septem- 
ber 7th, 1 598, and published shortly afterwards. He mentions twelve plays 
as being by Shakespeare: six co'medies and six tragedies. He omits the three 
parts of Henry VI, possibly because he wished to preserve the nicely balanced 
antithesis between comedy and tragedy. 'Loue labours wonne* probably refers 
to The Taming of the Shrew. He also mentions Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, 
and the Sonnets then circulating among Shakespeare's 'priuate friends'. (See 
p. 267.) 

SOURCES. The following table indicates the chief sources used by Shake- 

1590. 2 Henry VI. 
3 Henry VI. 

1591. i Henry VI. 

1592. Richard III. 
Titus Andronicus. 

1593. Comedy of Errors. 

Two Gentlemen of Verona. 

1 594. Love's Labour's Lost. 

1595. Romeo and Juliet. 
Richard II. 

1 596. Taming of the Shrew. 
Midsummer Night's Dream. 

597. King John. 

Merchant of Venice. 






Plautus: Menachmi. 

Montemayor: Diana Enamorada. 


Arthur Brooke: Romeus and Juliet. 


Taming of a Shrew (anon.). 


The Troublesome Raigne of lohn 

Ser Giovanni: // Pecorone* 

1 597. i Henry IV. 

1598. 2 Henry IV. 

Merry Wives of Windsor. 

1599. Henry V. 


[and The Famous Hc- 

Much Ado about Nothing. 
1600. As You Like It. 
Twelfth Night. 

1 60 1. Julius Caesar. 

1602. Troilus and Cressida. 

1603. All's Well. 
Measure for Measure. 

1604. Othello. 

1 605 . Timon of Athens. 

1606. King Lear. 

1607. Antony and Cleopatra. 

(1608. Pericles. 

1609. Cymbeline. 

1610. Winter's Tale. 

1611. The Tempest. 

1612. Henry VIII. 

(1613. Two Noble Kinsmen. 

Holinshed, and The Famous Vic- 

Bandello: Timbreo and Fenicia. 
Thomas Lodge: Rosalynde. 
Riche: Apolonius and Si Ha. 

Plutarch: Lives. 

Belleforest: Histoires Tragiques. 

Chaucer: Troilus and Criseyde. 

Boccaccio: Giglietta di Nerbona. 

Whetstone: Promos and Cassandra. 

Cinthio: Hecatommithi. 

Plutarch: Lives. 

King Leir, an anonymous play. 


Plutarch: Lives. 

Plutarch: Lives. 

Gower: Apollonius of Tyre.) 

Boccaccio: Decameron, and Holin- 

Robert Greene: Pandosto. 

Jourdan: A Discovery of the Ber- 


Chaucer: The Knights Tale.) 

Shakespeare, like the other Elizabethan dramatists, rarely invented his 
plots. There was an urgent demand for new plays, and if they were to be 
turned out quickly an obvious method of saving time was to work up a ready- 
made story. This Shakespeare did, and it will be seen that he drew on four 
main sources for his material: old plays, Holinshed's Chronicles, Plutarch's 
Lives, and romances derived from the Italian Novel. 

The old anonymous plays of The Taming of a Shrew, The Troublesome 
Reign of John, The Famous Victories of Henry F, and King Leir and his 
Three Daughters were all pressed into service, but for their plots only; there 
is no resemblance between their texts and those that Shakespeare made 
from them. They are completely rewritten, new characters are added, the 
action is made dramatic, and the plot itself of King Leir is radically altered. 
In The Famous Victories the secondary plot of Henry IF is crudely sketched, 
as is the character of Sir John Oldcastle, the original, if such a shadowy 
figure may so be called, of Falstaff. Here is a short scene from the old play: 



Hen. But Ned, so soone as I am King, the first thing I wil do, shal be to 
put my Lord chiefe Justice out of office. And thou shalt be my Lord 
chiefe Justice of Engknd. 

Ned. Shall I be Lord chiefe Justice? 

By gogs wounds, ile be the brauest Lord chiefe Justice of Engknd. 

Hen. Then Ned, lie turne all these prisons into fence Schooles, and I will 
endue thee with them, with landes to maintaine them withall: then I 
wil haue a bout with my Lord chiefe Justice, thou shalt hang none but 
picke purses and horse stealers, and such base minded vilkines, but that 
fellow that wil stand by the high way side couragiously with his sword 
and buckler and take a purse, that fellow giue him commendations, 
beside that, send him to me and I wil giue him an anuall pension out 
of my Exchequer, to maintaine him all the dayes of his life. 

lohn. Nobly spoken Harry, we shall neuer haue a mery world til the old 
king be dead. 

It used to be thought that 2, 3 Henry VI as printed in the Folio were adapta- 
tions by Shakespeare of other men's work, The First Part of the Contention, 
and The True Tragedy, but it now seems certain that these Quartos were 
pirated editions of Shakespeare's own text. All the evidence goes to show 
that when Shakespeare used a play as a source he did not merely patch and 
adapt it, he rewrote it. 

Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scot/ande> and Irelande were published 
in 1578 and contained inexhaustible material to satisfy the feverish nation- 
alism of London citizens, and Shakespeare made use of it in all his Histories, 
and in two Tragedies and a Romance as well. But Holinshed supplied only' 
the framework: the language, the characterisation, and many of the characters 
themselves are Shakespeare's; he found no material for the sub-plot of Henry 
If in Holinshed and little for the Hotspur theme. The only hint for the 
passage quoted from i Henry IV <m p. 1 50 is: 

The Persies with this answer and fraudulent excuse were not a little fumed, 
insomuch that Henry Hotspur said openlie: 'Behold, the heire of the relme 
is robbed of his right, and yet the robber with his owne will not redeeme 
him!' So in this furie the Persies departed, minding nothing more than to 
depose king Henrie from the high type of his royaltie. 

Only when bored or uninspired did Shakespeare transcribe Holinshed at 
length, as in the tedious dissertation on the 'law Salike', and the list of prisoners 
in Henry V. 

Plutarch, however, is another matter. Sir Thomas North's translation of 
Amyot's French version of Plutarch had appeared in 1579 as The Lives of 
the Noble Grecians and Romanes, so that Shakespeare must have been ac- 
quainted with the book from his youth. When therefore he turned from 
comedy and history to the tragedy of character it was natural that he should 
turn to Plutarch's dramatic biographies and North's inspiring prose. Some- 
times he would borrow an anecdote or an incident, as in Timon of Athens 
(cf.p. 158): 


'My Lords of Athens, I have a little yard in my house where there groweth 
a fig tree, on the which many citizens have hanged themselves: and, because 
I mean to make some building on the place, I thought good to let you all 
understand it, that, before the fig tree be cut down, if any of you be desperate, 
you may there in time go hang yourselves.' He died in the city of Halae, and 
was buried upon the seaside. 

Sometimes a few words appear to inspire a whole passage, like Charmian's 
in North's movingly simple account of Cleopatra's death (cf. p. 160, but 
note the magic of Shakespeare's final touch, 'Ah, soldier!') 

Her death was very sudden. For those whom Caesar sent unto her ran 
thither in all haste possible, and found the soldiers standing at the gate, mis- 
trusting nothing, nor understanding of her death. But when they had opened 
the doors they found Cleopatra stark dead, laid upon a bed of gold, attired 
and arrayed in her royal robes, and one of her two women, which was called 
Iras, dead at her feet: and her other woman called Cnarmion half-dead, and 
trembling, trimming the diadem which Cleopatra ware upon her head. One 
of the soldiers, seeing her, angrily said unto her: 'Is that well done, Char- 
mion?' 'Very well', said she again, 'and meet for a princess descended from 
the race of so many noble kings.' She said no more, but fell down dead by 
the bed. 

Sometimes Shakespeare would follow North closely and at length, as in the 
description of the meeting of Coriolanus and Aufidius (cf. p. 162). 

It was even twilight when he entered the city of Antium, and many people 
met him in the streets, but no man knew him. So he went directly to Tullus 
Aufidius' house, and when he came thither, he got him up straight to the 
chimney hearth, and sat him down, and spake not a word to any man, his 
face all muffled over. They of the house, spying him, wondered what he 
should be, and yet they durst not bid him rise. For ill-favouredly muffled and 
disguised as he was, yet there appeared a certain majesty in his countenance, 
and in his silence: whereupon they went to Tullus, who was at supper, to 
tell him of the strange disguising of this man. Tullus rose presently from the 
board, and, coming towards him, asked him what he was, and wherefore he 
came. Then Martius unmuffled himself, and after he had paused a while, 
making no answer, he said unto him: 'If thou knowest me not yet, Tullus, 
and, seeing me, dost not perhaps believe me to be the man I am indeed, I 
must of necessity bewray myself to be that I am. I am Caius Martius, who 
hath done to thyself particularly, and to all the Volscians generally, great 
hurt and mischief, which I cannot deny for my surname of Coriolanus that 
I bear. For I never had other benefit nor recompense of all the true and 
painful service I have done, and the extreme dangers I have been in, but this 
only surname: a good memory and witness of the malice and displeasure thou 
shouldst bear me. Indeed the name only remaineth with me: for the rest the 
envy and cruelty of the people of Rome have taken from me, by the sufferance 


of the dastardly nobility and magistrates, who have forsaken me, and let me 
be banished by the people. This extremity hath now driven me to come as 
a poor suitor to take thy chimney hearth, not of any hope I have to save my 
life thereby. For, if I had feared death, I would not have come hither to 
have put my life in hazard: but pricked forward with spite and desire I have 
to be revenged of them that thus have banished me, whom now I begin to 
be avenged on, putting my person between my enemies. 

It is not often that Shakespeare follows as literally and lengthily as this, though 
North's noble account of 'the wonderful sumptuousness of Cleopatra, queen 
of Egypt, going unto Antonius', and Shakespeare's parallel passage are well 
known. Shakespeare's debt to North is a great one, and it would be ungracious 
to deny it, but it would be equally unfair to maintain that Shakespeare merely 
transcribed even North: nearly always he adds some touch that transfigures 
the whole. That this is so, in one notable instance at least, is shown by Mr. 
Middleton Murry in his analysis of Enobarbus's speech quoted on p. 457. 

Shakespeare's debt to the Italian novel is different. The light and flimsy 
stories could be adapted and woven together at pleasure: Claudio and Hero 
taken from Bandello, hints for Benedick and Beatrice perhaps extracted from 
Castiglione, while the humour of Dogberry *he happened to take at Grendon 
in Bucks'; or to a mixture of Secchi, Bandello, and Cinthio, add Malvolio, 
Feste, Sir Toby, and Sir Andrew, and the piercing poetry of Viola, and call 
it what you will; or Holinshed's Chronicles might richly and strangely be 
grafted on to t the Decameron of Boccaccio. Here there is no question of 
transcription; the plots only are plundered, what is precious abstracted, then 
mingled, new situations and vital characters added, and the whole swept into 
a unity and integrated by the poetry and spirit of Shakespeare. 

It is only what we should expect from genius in a hurry; Shakespeare 
thankfully accepted the materials, and if the foundations were partly laid and 
the scaffolding satisfactorily erected so much the better; but whatever the 
beginnings an old play, Holinshed, an Italian or English novel, or one of 
Plutarch's Lives the building, the work of art, was his own. 

The quotations that follow the information given about each play are 
examples of eighteenth-century, Romantic, and either later nineteenth- or 
twentieth-century criticism, the representatives of the first two periods nearly 
always being Johnson, Coleridge, and Hazlitt, who give continuity and unity 
to the whole. In addition, when possible, there are extracts from contem- 
porary and later seventeenth-century critics, notably Dryden, as well as from 
the rare and sensitive Lamb and de Quincey. There is variety in the criticism 
of the last hundred years, from Ulrici and Gervinus to Granville-Barker and 
Dover Wilson. 

Unless otherwise stated, the extracts from Johnson are from his General 
Observations on the Plays of Shakespeare; those from Coleridge from Notes 
and Lectures upon Shakspeare and some of the Ola* Dramatists; and those from 
Hazlitt from Characters of Shakespear*s Plays. 


The Plays of the First Folio, 1623 


WRITTEN: 1590. 

S.R.: *594 March 12 by Thomas Millington . . . 'the firste parte of 

the Contention'. 

1602 April 19. Assigned by Millington to Thomas Pavier . . . 
*The firste and Second parte of Henry the vj d '. 

PUBLISHED: 1594 Qi. 'The First part of the Contention betwixt the two 
famous Houses of Yorke and Lancaster.' A 'bad' Quarto. 
1602 Q2. 

1619 Qj. 'The Whole Contention betweene the two Famous 
Houses, Lancaster and Yorke . . . Diuided into two Parts: 
And newly corrected and enlarged. Written by William 
Shakespeare, Gent.' 

1623 Fi. as 'The Second part of King Hen. the Sixt'. A third 
as long again as Qq. 

MERES: Not mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1 598. 

SOURCES: Mainly from Holinshed's Chronicles. 




PERFORMED: Before Sept. 1592 when Greene in his Groatsworth of Wit 
parodied the line *O tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide'. 1 

1 ROBERT GREENE. Yes trust them not: for there is an vpstart Crow, beautified with our 
feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players byde, supposes he 
it as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute lobannts 
fac totum y is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey. 

Groats-worth of Wi f, 1592. 



S.R.: No original entry, but assigned by Millington to Pavier in 1602. 

PUBLISHED: 1595 Qi. 'The true Tragedie of Richard Duke of Yorke . . . 
as it was sundrie times acted by the Right Honourable the 
Earle of Pembrooke his seruants.' A 'bad' Quarto. 
1600 Q2. 

1619 >3. Jaggard's reprint with 'The First Part of the Con- 
tention' as 'The Whole Contention'. 

1623 F i. as 'The Third part of King Henry the sixt'. A third 
as long again as Qq. 

MERES: Not mentioned in his Palladia Tamia, 1 598. 
SOURCES: Mainly from Holinshed's Chronicles. 

It used to be thought that The First Part of the Contention and the True 
Tragedy were old plays revised and expanded into the Henry AY, Parts 2 
and 3 of the Folio. It now seems clear, however, that they are 'bad' Quartos 
the texts of which were reproduced from memory by actors or a prompter 
(book-keeper), and that the Folio text is the original play printed probably 
from the author's MS. There may have been collaboration, but there is no 
reason why Shakespeare should not have been the sole author. 


WRITTEN: 1591. 

PERFORMED: 1592. In his Diary Henslowe records a performance on 
March 3 of a new play, 'Harey the vj', performed by Lord 
Strange's Men, probably at the Rose. See also Nashe's reference 

S.R.: 1623 Nov. 8. One of the 16 plays registered by Blount and 

Jaggard before their publication of the Folio. It is entered sa 
'The thirde parte of Henry ye Sixt', but the entry must refer 
to i Henry PL 

PUBLISHED: 1623 Fi. as 'The First part of King Henry the Sixt'. 
MERES: Not mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. 
SOURCES: Mainly from Holinshed's Chronicles. 


There are a number of different styles in the play. Perhaps Shakespeare's 
part in it is confined to II. 4 and IV. 2. 

THOMAS NASHE. How would it have ioyed braue Talbot (the terror of the 
French) to thinke that after he had lyne two hundred 
yeares in his Tombe, hee should triumphe againe on the Stage, and haue his 
bones newe embalmed with the teares of ten thousand spectators at least, (at 
seuerall times) who, in the Tragedian that represents his person, imagine they 
behold him fresh bleeding? 

Pierce Pemlesse, 1592. 

JOHNSON. From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred; in the productions 
of wit there will be inequality. Sometimes judgment will err, and 
sometimes the matter itself will defeat the artist. Of every author's works 
one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The colours are not equally 
pleasing, nor the attitudes equally graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or 

Dissimilitude of style, and heterogeneousness of sentiment, may sufficiently 
show that a work does not really belong to the reputed author. But in these 
plays no such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the versifica- 
tion, and the figures, are Shakespeare's. These plays, considered, without 
regard to characters and incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more 
happily conceived, and more accurately finished, than those of King John, 
Richard II, or the tragic scenes of Henry IV and V. If we take these plays 
from Shakespeare, to whom shall they be given? What author of that age 
had the same easiness and fluency of numbers? . . . 

Of these three plays I think the second the best. The truth is, that they 
have not sufficient variety of action, for the incidents are too often of the 
same kind; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. . . . 

The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI and of Henry V are 
so apparently imperfect and mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing 
them the first draughts of Shakespeare. I am inclined to believe them copies 
taken by some auditor who wrote down, during the representation, what the 
time would permit, then, perhaps, filled up some of his omissions at a second 
or third hearing, and when he had by this method formed something like a 
play, sent it to the printer. (This is a remarkable anticipation of modern 
textual criticism.) 

COLERIDGE, i Henry VI. Act i. sc. i. Bedford's speech: 

Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night! 
Comets, importing change of times and states, 
Brandish your crystal tresses in the sky; 


And with them scourge the bad revolting stars 
That have consented unto Henry's death! 
King Henry the fifth, too famous to live long! 
England ne'er lost a king of so much worth. 

Read aloud any two or three passages in blank verse even from Shakespeare's 
earliest dramas, as Love's Labour's Lost, or Romeo and Juliet; and then read 
in the same way this speech, with especial attention to the metre; and if you 
do not feel the impossibility of the latter having been written by Shakspeare, 
all I dare suggest is, that you may have ears, for so has another animal, 
but an ear you cannot have, me judlce. 

HAZLITT. During the time of the civil wars of York and Lancaster, Engknd 
was a perfect bear-garden, and Shakespear has given us a very 
lively picture of the scene. The three parts of Henry VI convey a picture 
of very little else, and are inferior to the other historical plays. They have 
brilliant passages; but the general groundwork is comparatively poor and 
meagre, the style 'flat and unraised'. 

LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH. And if we read the historical plays in the order 
of their composition, we are aware again of the 

same stupendous stride of genius. The four earliest of these, the three Henry 
VI plays and Richard III, are what the Patriot King called 'stuff'; they are 
woven of the stuff of the common Elizabethan drama, and whether Shake- 
speare really wrote them has been often doubted. And yet from my reading 
of these four plays I remember a few scenes which I feel he must have written 
a few gleams through the morning mists from the 'glory hereafter to be 
revealed', from the sun still below the horizon, of his ascending genius. 
Touched by these gleams of dawn, I seem looming faintly, to borrow his own 

The baby figure of the giant mass 
Of things to come at large. 

In the musings of the poor mild King in the third Henry VI pky, on the 
happiness of the shepherd's lot (II, v), we find a soliloquy and a poetic day- 
dream that no one but Shakespeare could have written, and in the death of 
Cardinal Beaufort (// Henry VI, III, iii) the note of Shakespearean tragedy 
is first sounded in that scene of despair and dreadful death. 1 Cade in this play 
is almost a living figure, and even more alive is his derisive follower, Smith, 
'the weaver', who, when Cade tells Sir Humphrey Stafford that his father 
was of royal blood, though stolen at birth and trained as a bricklayer, Smith 
ironically confirms this boast by declaring 'Sir, he made a chimney in my 
father's house, and the bricks are alive at this day to testify it; therefore deny 
it not' (IV, ii). 

On Reading Shakespeare. 
1 See p. 140. 




WRITTEN: 1592. 

PERFORMED: 1 593 Dec. 30. The play of 'Buckingham* recorded by Henslowe 
in his Diary may refer to Richard III. It was not noted as 
'new', and was performed by Sussex's Men. 
1633. 'O n Saterday, the I7th of Novemb. being the Queens 
birthday, Richarde the Thirde was acted by the K. players at 
St James, wher the king and queene were present, it being the 
first play the queene sawe since her Maiestys delivery of the 
Duke of York.' 

S.R.: 1 597 Oct 20 by Andrew Wise. 

1603 transferred to Mathew Lawe. 

PUBLISHED: 1 597 Qi. 'As it hath beene lately Acted by the Right honour- 
able the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants.' 
1598 Q2. 'By William Shake-speare.' 
1602 Q3. 'Newly augmented.' 

1605 4, 1612 5. 'As it hath been lately Acted by the Kings 
Maiesties Seruants.' 

1622 Q6. 

1623 Fi. 

Each Q. is printed from its predecessor. Fi is printed from 
Q6 with reference to another source, possibly the original MS. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. 
SOURCE: Mainly Holinshed's Chronicles. 

The authenticity of the play is doubted by the disintegrators. J. M. 
Robertson attributes it to Marlowe, Kyd, and Heywood, Shakespeare con- 
tributing only six or seven speeches. E. K. Chambers 'finds nothing here 
which might not be Shakespeare'. 

In 1700 Colley Gibber adapted the play, adding more love-interest and 
violence, and his melodramatic version held the stage until quite recent times. 

ANON. Burbage. I like your face, and the proportion of your body for 
Richard\\& 3. I pray, M. Phil, let me see you act a little of it. 
Philomusus. 'Now is the winter of our discontent, 

Made glorious summer by the sonne of Yorke.' 

Returnefrom Parnassus II. (1601?) 

JOHN MANNINGHAM. Vpon a tyme when Burbidge played Rich. 3. there was 

a citizen greue soe farr in liking with him, that before 

shee went from the play shee appointed him to come that night vnto hir by 


the name of Ri: the 3. Shakespeare overhearing their conclusion went before, 
was intertained, and at his game ere Burbidge came. Then message being 
brought that Rich, the 3d was at the dore, Shakespeare caused returne to be 
made that William the Conqueror was before Richard the 3. 

Diary, 1602. 

JOHNSON. This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances; 
yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, 
to be praised most, when praise is not most deserved. That this play has 
scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, 
cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some 

THOMAS WHATELY. Thus, from the beginning of their history to their last 
moments, are the characters of Macbeth and Richard 
preserved entire and distinct: and though probably Shakespeare, when he was 
drawing the one, had no attention to the other; yet, as he conceived them to 
be widely different, expressed his conceptions exactly, and copied both from 
nature, they necessarily became contrasts to each other; and, by seeing them 
together, that contrast is more apparent, especially where the comparison is 
not between opposite qualities, but arises from the different degrees, or from 
a particular display, or total omission, of the same quality. This must often 
happen, as the character of Macbeth is much more complicated than that of 
Richard; and therefore, when they are set in opposition, the judgment of the 
poet shows ifself as much in what he has left out of the latter as in what he 
has inserted. The picture of Macbeth is also, for the same reason, much the 
more highly finished of the two; for it required a greater variety, and a greater 
delicacy of painting, to express and to blend with consistency all the several 
properties which are ascribed to him. That of Richard is marked by more 
careless strokes, but they are, notwithstanding, perfectly just. Much bad 
composition may indeed be found in the part; it is a fault from which the best 
of Shakespeare's plays are not exempt, and with which this Play particularly 
abounds; and the taste of the age in which he wrote, though it may afford 
some excuse, yet cannot entirely vindicate the exceptionable passages. After 
every reasonable allowance, they must still remain blemishes ever to be 
lamented; but happily, for the most part, they only obscure, they do not dis- 
figure his draughts from nature. Through whole speeches and scenes, charac- 
ter is often wanting; but in the worst instances of this kind, Shakespeare is but 
insipid; he is not inconsistent; and in his peculiar excellence of drawing 
characters, though he often neglects to exert his talents, he is very rarely 
guilty of perverting them. 

Remarks on some of the Characters of Shake spe are y 1785. 

COLERIDGE. This play should be contrasted with Richard II. Pride of intel- 
lect is the characteristic of Richard, carried to the extent of even 
boasting to his own mind of his villany, whilst others are present to feed his 
pride of superiority. Shakspeare here, as in all his great parts, developes in a 


tone of sublime morality the dreadful consequences of placing the moral, in 
subordination to the mere intellectual, being. In Richard there is a pre- 
dominance of irony, accompanied with apparently blunt manners to those 
immediately about him, but formalized into a more set hypocrisy towards the 
people as represented by their magistrates. 

HAZLITT. The Richard of Shakespear is towering and lofty; equally impetu- 
ous and commanding; haughty, violent, and subtle; bold and 
treacherous; confident in his strength as well as in his cunning; raised high 
by his birth, and higher by his talents and his crimes; a royal usurper, a 
princely hypocrite, a tyrant and a murderer of the house of Plantagenet. 

But I was born so high: 

Our aery buildeth in the cedar's top, 

And dallies with the wind, and scorns the sun. 

The idea conveyed in these lines (which are indeed omitted in the miserable 
medley acted for Richard III) is never lost sight of by Shakespear, and should 
not be out of the actor's mind for a moment. The restless and sanguinary 
Richard is not a man striving to be great, but to be greater than he is; con- 
scious of his strength of will, his power of intellect, his daring courage, his 
elevated station; and making use of these advantages to commit unheard-of 
crimes, and to shield himself from remorse and infamy. . . . 

The manner in which Shakespear's plays have been generally altered or 
rather mangled by modern mechanists, is a disgrace to the English stage. The 
patch- work Richard III which is acted under the sanction of his name, and 
which was manufactured by Gibber, is a striking example of this remark. 

The play itself is undoubtedly a very powerful effusion of Shakespear's 
genius. The ground-work of the character of Richard, that mixture of intel- 
lectual vigour with moral depravity, in which Shakespear delighted to show 
his strength gave full scope as well as temptation to the exercise of his 

LAMB. I am almost disposed to deny to Garrick the merit of being an admirer 
of Shakespeare. A true lover of his excellences he certainly was not; 
for would any true lover of them have admitted into his matchless scenes 
such ribald trash as Tate and Gibber, and the rest of them, that 

'With their darkness durst affront his light', 

have foisted into the acting plays of Shakespeare? I believe it impossible that 
he could have had a proper reverence for Shakespeare, and have condescended 
to go through that interpokted scene in Richard III, in which Richard tries 
to break his wife's heart by telling her he loves another woman, and says, 'if 
she survives this she is immortal'. Yet I doubt not he delivered this vulgar 
stuff with as much anxiety of emphasis as any of the genuine parts: and for 
acting, it is as well calculated as any. 

On the Tragedies of Shakespeare. 


SIR EDMUND CHAMBERS. Nor do I see any adequate reason for assuming two 
hands. There are 'dull' scenes, but the style is 

uniform throughout. It is a highly mannered rhetorical style, extravagant in 
utterance, with many appeals and exclamations. There is much violent and 
vituperative speech; the word 'blood* runs like a leit-motif through the pky. 
Epithets, and sometimes nouns, are piled up, in pairs, with or without a con- 
junction; in triplets or even greater numbers. Types of line-structure tend to 
recur. One is based on such a triplet; another is the 'balanced' line, of noun 
and epithet against noun and epithet. A 'clinching' line at the end of a 
speech is also common. There are 'cumulative' passages of parallel lines with 
parisonic beginnings or ending. Words and phrases are repeated for emphasis. 
There is much 'ringing of the changes' on individual words, between line 
and line and speech and speech. Sometimes this is progressive, as new words 
are introduced. Sometimes it takes the form of a bitter pun. There is rhetori- 
cal structure, in antithesis, antiphon, stichomythia. Some of it is ultimately 
of Senecan origin. All these features occur individually in pre- Shakespearean 
plays and recur in later Shakespearean plays, with diminishing frequency. 
But I do not think that they are quite so massed and multiplied elsewhere. I 
find nothing here which might not be Shakespeare, at an early stage of de- 
velopment, and while he is still much under the influence of his predecessors. 
Perhaps I should make a qualification. I am not certain that the extremely 
ineffective speeches of the ghosts may not be a spectacular theatrical addition. 
William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems. 


WRITTEN: 1592. 

PERFORMED: Hens tow e*s Diary: 

1592 April n, 'ne. Tittus & Vespacia'. By Strange's Men. 
1594 Jan 4, 'ne Titus & Ondronicous'. By Sussex's Men. 
1 594 June 14, 'Andronicous'. By Admiral's and Chamber- 
lain's Men. 

S.R.: 1 594 Feb. 6 by John Danter. 

1602 transferred from Thomas Millington to Thomas Pavier. 

PUBLISHED: 1 594 Qi. 'As it was Plaide by the Right Honourable the Earle 
of Darbie, Earle of Pembrooke, and Earle of Sussex their 

1600 Q f 2. 'As it hath sundry times been playde by ... the 
Lorde Chamberlaine theyr Seruants.' 


1611 >3. 'As it hath sundry times beene plaide by the Kings 

Maiesties Seruants.' 

1623 Fi. 

Each Quarto is printed from its predecessor, and Fi from 3 

with the addition of III. 2. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladia Tamia, 1598. 

SOURCE: Unknown, but the themes of the murderous Moor, and of the 
marriage of Moor and white woman were common. (Cf. 

If the play were really new in 1 594 it is crude work for Shakespeare at so 
late a date. If, however, the Tittus and Vespacia of 1 592 refers to Titus 
Andronicus it is more reasonable to attribute it largely to Shakespeare, at least 
as reviser. J. M. Robertson thinks Peele and Marlowe primarily responsible, 
with Kyd and Greene as possible collaborators. 

In 1678 Edward Ravenscroft wrote an adaptation of Titus Andronicus, 
even more full of horrors than the original. His Address to his play contains 
the only piece of external evidence (which need not be taken too seriously) 
against the authenticity of any play in the First Folio. 

BEN JONSON. He that will swear Jeronimo or Andronicus are the best plays 

yet shall pass unexcepted at here, as a man whose judgment 

shows it is constant and hath stood still these five and twenty or thirty years. 

Induction to Bartholomew Fair, 1614. 

RAVENSCROFT. I think it a greater theft to rob the dead of their praise than 
the living of their money. That I may not appear guilty of 
such a crime, 'tis necessary I should acquaint you, that there is a play in Mr. 
Shakespeare's volume under the name of Titus Andronicus, from whence I 
drew part of this. I have been told by some anciently conversant with the 
stage, that it was not originally his, but brought by a private author to be 
acted, and he only gave some master-touches to one or two of the principal 
parts or characters; this I am apt to believe, because 'tis the most incorrect 
and indigested piece in all his works; it seems rather a heap of rubbish than a 

Address to Titus Andronicus, or the Rape of Lavinia, 1678. 

JOHNSON. All the editors and critics agree with Mr. Theobald in supposing 
this play spurious. I see no reason for differing from them; for the 
colour of the style is wholly different from that of the other plays, and there is 
an attempt at regular versification and artificial closes, not always inelegant, yet 
seldom pleasing. The barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre, 
which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience; 


yet we are told by Jonson, that they were not only borne, but praised. That 
Shakespeare wrote any part, though Theobald declares it incontestable, I see 
no reason for believing. 

SCHLEGEL. This tragedy, it is true, is framed according to a false idea of the 
tragic, which by an accumulation of cruelties and enormities 
degenerates into the horrible, and yet leaves no deep impression behind. . . . 
In detail there is no want of beautiful lines, bold images, nay, even features 
which betray the peculiar conception of Shakespeare. Among these we may 
reckon the joy of the treacherous Moor at the blackness and ugliness of his 
child begot in adultery; and in the compassion of Titus Andronicus, grown 
childish through grief, for a fly which had been struck dead, and his rage 
afterwards when he imagines he discovers in it his black enemy, we recognise 
the future poet of Lear. 

Lectures on Dramatic Poetry. 

HAZLITT. Titus Andronicus is certainly as unlike Shakespear's usual style as 
it is possible. It is an accumuktion of vulgar physical horrors, in 
which the power exercised by the poet bears no proportion to the repugnance 
excited by the subject. The character of Aaron the Moor is the only thing 
which shews any originality of conception; and the scene in which he ex- 
presses his joy 'at the blackness and ugliness of his child begot in adultery', 
the only one worthy of Shakespear. Even this is worthy of him only in the 
display of power, for it gives no pleasure. Shakespear managed these things 
differently. Nor do we think it a sufficient answer to say that this was an 
embryo or crude production of the author. In its kind it is full grown, and 
its features decided and overcharged. It is not like a first imperfect essay, but 
shows a confirmed habit, a systematic preference of violent effect to every- 
thing else. There are occasional detached images of great beauty and delicacy, 
but these were not beyond the powers of other writers then living. 

SIR WALTER RALEIGH. There is an attractive simplicity about the criticism 
which attributes all that is good to Shakespeare, and 
all that is bad 'to an inferior hand*. On this principle Titus Andronicus has 
been stoutly alleged to contain no single line of Shakespeare's composing. 
But if once we are foolishly persuaded to go behind the authority of Heminge 
and Condell (reinforced, in the case of Titus, by the testimony of Francis 
Meres), we have lost our only safe anchorage, and are afloat upon a wild 
and violent sea, subject to every wind of doctrine. No critical ear, however 
highly respected, can safely set itself up against the evidence of Shakespeare's 
friends. It is wiser to believe that the plays in the Folio were attributed to 
Shakespeare either because they were wholly his, or because they were recast 
and rewritten by him, or, lastly, because they contain enough of his work to 
warrant the attribution. 




WRITTEN: 1593. 

PERFORMED: 1 594 Dec 28, at Gray's Inn. 

1604 At Court. 'By his Maiesties plaiers. On Inosents night 
The plaie of Errors. Shaxberd.' (Revels Account!) 

S,R.: 1623. O ne f th e *6 plays that had not already been published 

as Quartos registered by Blount and Jaggard before the publica- 
tion of the Folio. 

PUBLISHED: 1623 Fi. A fair text, probably based on Shakespeare's MS. 
MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. 
SOURCE: The Men&chmi, a comedy by Pkutus. 

'The pky (1,777 lines) is Shakespeare's shortest, and was probably meant 
to precede a mask, jig, or other afterpiece.' 

GRAY'S INN RECORDS. The next grand Night was intended to be upon 
Innocents-Day at Night. . . . The Ambassador (of 
the Inner Temple) came . . . about Nine of the Clock at Night . . . there 
arose such a disordered Tumult and Crowd upon the Stage, that there was 
no Opportunity to effect that which was intended. . . . The Lord Am- 
bassador and his Train thought that they were not so kindly entertained as 
was before expected, and thereupon would not stay any longer at that time, 
but, in a sort, discontented and displeased. After their Departure the Throngs 
and Tumults did somewhat cease, although so much of them continued, as 
was able to disorder and confound any good Inventions whatsoever. In 
regard whereof, as also for that the Sports intended were especially for the 
gracing of the Templerians, it was thought good not to offer any thing of 
Account, saving Dancing and Revelling with Gentlewomen; and after such 
Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Ptautus his Menechmus) was played by 
the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing 
but Confusion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever afterwards called, The 
Night of Errors. . . . We preferred Judgments . . . against a Sorcerer or 
Conjuror that was supposed to be the Cause of that confused Inconvenience. 
. . . And Lastly, that he had foisted a Company of base and common Fellows, 
to make up our Disorders with a Play of Errors and Confusions; and that that 
Night had gained to us Discredit, and itself a Nickname of Errors. 

Gesta Grayorum, Dec. 28th, 1594. 

HAZLITT. This comedy is taken very much from the Menaechmi of Plautus, 

and is not an improvement on it. Shakespear appears to have 

bestowed no great pains on it, and there are but a few passages which bear 


the decided stamp of his genius. He seems to have relied on his author, and 
on the interest arising out of the intricacy of the plot. The curiosity excited 
is certainly very considerable, though not of the most pleasing kind. We are 
teazed as with a riddle, which notwithstanding we try to solve. . . . This play 
leads us not to feel much regret that Shakespear was not what is called a 
classical scholar. We do not think his forte would ever have lain in imitating 
or improving on what others invented, so much as in inventing for himself, 
and perfecting what he invented, not perhaps by the omission of faults, but 
by the addition of the highest excellencies. His own genius was strong enough 
to bear him up, and he soared longest and best on unborrowed plumes. . . . 

Pinch the conjuror is also an excrescence not to be found in Plautus. He 
is indeed a very formidable anachronism. 

They brought one Pinch, a hungry lean-fac'd villain, 

A mere anatomy, a mountebank, 

A thread-bare juggler and a fortune-teller: 

A needy, holy-ey'd, sharp-looking wretch, 

A living dead man. 

This is exactly like some of the Puritanical portraits to be met with in Hogarth. 

COLERIDGE. The myriad-minded man, our, and all men's, Shakespeare, has 
in this piece presented us with a legitimate farce in exactest 
consonance with the philosophical principles and character of farce, as dis- 
tinguished from comedy and from entertainments. A proper farce is mainly 
distinguished from comedy by the license allowed, and even required, in the 
fable, in order to produce strange and laughable situations. The story need 
not be probable, it is enough that it is possible. A comedy would scarcely 
allow even the two Antipholuses; because, although there have been instances 
of almost indistinguishable likeness in two persons, yet these are mere indi- 
vidual accidents, casus ludentis nature, and the verum will not excuse the 
inverisimUe. But farce dares add the two Dromios, and is justified in so doing 
by the laws of its end and constitition. In a word, farces commence in a 
postulate, which must be granted. 

JOHN MASEFIELD. The Menachmi of Pkutus is a piece of very skilful theatri- 
cal craft. It is almost heartless. In bringing it out of the 
Satanic kingdom of comedy into the charities of a larger system Shakespeare 
shows for the first time a real largeness of dramatic instinct. In his handling 
of the tricky ingenious plot he achieves (what, perhaps, he wrote the play to 
get) a dexterous, certain pky of mind. He strikes the ringing note time after 
time. It cannot be said that the verse, or the sense of character, or the inven- 
tion is better than in the other early plays. It is not. The play is on a lower 
plane than any of his other works. It is the only Shakespearean pky without 
a deep philosophical idea. ... It is also the first pky that shows a fine, 
sustained power of dramatic construction. 

William Shakespeare. 




WRITTEN: ^93. 

PERFORMED: No record of performance. 

S.R.: 1623 Nov. 8 by Blount and Isaak Jaggard. One of the 16 plays 

registered before the publication of the Folio. 

PUBLISHED: 1623: Fi. The text is rather short, but fairly correct. 
MERES: Mentioned in his Palladh Tamia, 1598. 

SOURCE: La Diana Enamorada: a prose romance in Spanish by Jorge 
de Montemayor. 

JOHNSON. In this play there is a strange mixture of knowledge and ignorance, 
of care and negligence. The versification is often excellent, the 
allusions are learned and just; but the author conveys his heroes by sea from 
one inland town to another in the same country; he places the emperor at 
Mikn, and sends his young men to attend him, but never mentions him 
more; he makes Proteus, after an interview with Silvia, say he has only seen 
her picture; and, if we may credit the old copies, he has, by mistaking places, 
left his scenery inextricable. The reason of all this confusion seems to be, 
that he took his story from a novel, which he sometimes followed, and some- 
times forsook, sometimes remembered, and sometimes forgot. 

HAZLITT. This is little more than the first outlines of a comedy loosely 
sketched in. It is the story of a novel dramatised with very little 
labour or pretension; yet there are passages of high poetical spirit, and of 
inimitable quaintness of humour, which are undoubtedly Shakespear's, and 
there is throughout the conduct of the fable a careless grace and felicity 
which marks it for his. . . . The style of the familiar parts of this comedy is 
indeed made up of conceits low they may be for what we know, but then 
they are not poor, but rich ones. The scene of Launce with his dog (not 
that in the second, but that in the fourth act) is a perfect treat in the way 
of farcical drollery and invention; nor do we think Speed's manner of proving 
his master to be in love deficient in wit or sense, though the style may be 
criticised as not simple enough for the modern taste. . . . 

The tender scenes in this play, though not so highly wrought as in some 
others, have often much sweetnes? of sentiment and expression. . . . 


Lucetta. I do not seek to quench your love's hot fire, 

But qualify the fire's extreme rage, 

Lest it should burn above the bounds of reason. 
Julia. The more thou damm'st it up, the more it burns. 

The current that with gentle murmur glides, 

Thou know'st, being stopped, impatiently doth rage; 

But when his fair course is not hindered, 

He makes sweet music with the enamelled stones, 

Giving a gentle kiss to every sedge 

He overtaketh in his pilgrimage; 

And so by many winding nooks he strays, 

With willing sport, to the wild ocean. 

Then let me go, and hinder not my course: 

I'll be as patient as a gentle stream, 

And make a pastime of each weary step, 

Till the last step have brought me to my love 

And there I'll rest, as after much turmoil 

A blessed soul doth in Elysium. 

If Shakespear indeed had written only this and other passages in The Two 
Gentlemen of Verona, he would almost have deserved Milton's praise of 

And sweetest Shakespear, Fancy's child, 
Warbles his native wood-notes wild. 

But as it is x he deserves rather more praise than this. 

LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH. And yet it is curious to note that the supremest 
gift of language, that gift of the magic and evocatory 

phrase, which has made Shakespeare the master-magician of the world, was 
by no means, with him, as with many young poets, a natural endowment; and 
we find few traces of it in the long poems he so carefully composed when 
nearly thirty. His earliest plays are written in the common poetic died on of 
his time that style of the day which, as Swinburne says, all great poets begin 
by writing, and lesser poets write all their lives. In the earlier historical plays, 
where Shakespeare's authorship is disputed, it is hardly possible to discriminate 
by any criterion of style which parts are of his composition. In the powerful 
rhetoric and plangent declamation of certain passages in these plays we seem 
to be first aware of Shakespeare's gift of language; but it is only in The Two 
Gentlemen offerona, with the Song 'Who is Silvia', with the line: 

The uncertain glory of an April day, 

and the passage about the brook that makes sweet music as it strays, that his 
power over words becomes a magic power, and his golden mastery of speech 
begins to almost blind us with its beauty. 

On Reading Shakespeare. 




WRITTEN: 1 594. 

PUBLISHED: 1598 Qi. 'A Pleasant Conceited Comedie Called, Loues 
labors lost. As it was presented before her Highnes this last 
Christmas. Newly corrected and augmented By W. Shake- 

Not a 'bad' Quarto, but a badly printed text. The fact that 
there was no entry in the Stationers' Register before Qi suggests 
that there may have been an earlier, surreptitious Quarto from 
which Qi was 'newly corrected and augmented', though it is 
possible that Shakespeare rewrote the play for its publication 
in 1 598. It is the first play to be published with his name. 
1623 Fi. Set up from Qi. There are many corrections, but 
many new errors are introduced. 

163 1 Q2. 'A Wittie and Pleasant Comedie, As it was Acted by 
his Maiesties Seruants at the Blacke-Friers and the Globe. 
Written by William Shakespeare.' 

PERFORMED: If the title-page of Qi is not the repetition of an earlier one 'it 
was presented before her Highnes this last Christmas', i.e. 
1 597-8, though of course it may have been acted as soon as 

1605. 'By his Maiesties plaiers. Betwin Newers Day and 
Twelfe day A play of Loues Labours Lost.' (Revels Account.) 

S.R.: 1607 Jan. 22, by Nicholas Ling. 

1607 Nov. 19, transferred to John Smethwick. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladia Tamia, 1598. 

SOURCES: The plot appears to be Shakespeare's own, though there are 
many topical allusions: the Due de Biron and the Due de 
Longueville were supporters of Henry of Navarre. 

J. D. Wilson thinks that the play as we have it is a revision of an early 
version that was acted at the Earl of Southampton's house in plague-time. 
It certainly seems to be written for a courtly rather than a popular audience. 

SIR WALTER COPE. I have sent and bene all thys morning huntyng for 
players Juglers & Such kinde of Creaturs, but fynde them 
harde to finde, wherfore Leavinge notes for them to seeke me, Burbage ys 
come, & sayes ther ys np new playe that the quene hath not scene, but they 
have revyved an olde one, Cawjed Lwt$ Lafare fast, which for wytt & mirthe 




Conceited Comedie 


Loues labors loft. 

As it was prefcnted before her Highnes 
tnis laft Chriftmas. 

Newly corrc&ed and augmented 
By W.Sbaktfttrc. 

Impr intcd at London jby WW* 
tot Cutbert Burky, 



he sayes will please her exceedingly. And Thys ys apointed to be pkyd to 
Morowe night at my Lord of Sowthamptons, unless yow send a wrytt to 
Remove the Corpus Cum Causa to your howse in Strande. Burbage ys my 
messenger Ready attendyng your pleasure. 

Letter to Robert Cecil, 1604. 

JOHNSON. In this play, which all the editors have concurred to censure, and 
some have rejected as unworthy of our poet, it must be confessed 
that there are many passages mean, childish and vulgar; and some which 
ought not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, to a maiden 
queen. But there are scattered through the whole many sparks of genius; nor 
is there any play that has more evident marks of the hand of Shakespeare. 

COLERIDGE. The characters in this play are either impersonated out of 
Shakspeare's own multiformity by imaginative self-position or out 
of such as a country town and schoolboy's observation might supply, the 
curate, the schoolmaster, the Armado, (who even in my time was not extinct 
in the cheaper inns of North Wales) and so on. The satire is chiefly on follies 
of words. Biron and Rosaline are evidently the pre-existent state of Benedict 
and Beatrice, and so, perhaps, is Boyet of Lafeu, and Costard of the Tapster 
in Measure for Measure; and the frequency of the rhymes, the sweetness as 
well as the smoothness of the metre, and the number of acute and fancifully 
illustrated aphorisms, are all as they ought to be in a poet's youth. True 
genius begins by generalizing and condensing; it ends in realizing and ex- 
panding. It first collects the seeds. 

Yet if this juvenile drama had been the only one extant of our Shakspeare, 
and we possessed the tradition only of his riper works, or accounts of them in 
writers who had not even mentioned this play, how many of Shakspeare's 
characteristic features might we not still have discovered in Love's Labour's 
Lost, though as in a portrait taken of him in his boyhood? 

I can never sufficiently admire the wonderful activity of thought through- 
out the whole of the first scene of the play, rendered natural, as it is, by the 
choice of the characters, and the whimsical determination on which the drama 
is founded. . . . 

The same kind of intellectual action is exhibited in a more serious and 
elevated strain in many other parts of this play. Biron's speech at the end of 
the fourth act is an excellent specimen of it. It is logic clothed in rhetoric; 
but observe how Shakspeare, in his two-fold being of poet and philosopher, 
avails himself of it to convey profound truths in the most lively images, the 
whole remaining faithful to the character supposed to utter the lines, and the 
expressions themselves constitutinga further developement of that character: 

Other slow arts entirely keep the brain: 
And therefore finding barren practisers, 
Scarce shew a harvest of their heavy toil: 
But love, first learned in a lady's eyes, 
Lives not alone immured in the brain; 


But, with the motion of all elements, 
Courses as swift as thought in every power; 
And gives to every power a double power, 
Above their functions and their offices. . . .* 

This is quite a study; sometimes you see this youthful god of poetry con- 
necting disparate thoughts purely by means of resemblances in the words 
expressing them, a thing in character in lighter comedy, especially of that 
kind in which Shakspeare delights, namely, the purposed display of wit, 
though sometimes, too, disfiguring his graver scenes; but more often you 
may see him doubling the natural connection or order of logical consequence 
in the thoughts by the introduction of an artificial and sought-for resemblance 
in the words, as, for instance, in the third line of the play, 

And then grace us in the disgrace of death; 

this being a figure often having its force and propriety, as justified by the law 
of passion, which, inducing in the mind an unusual activity, seeks for means 
to waste its superfluity, when in the highest degree in lyric repetitions 
and sublime tautology. 

HAZLITT. If we were to part with any of the author's comedies, it should be 
this. Yet we would be loth to part with Don Adriano de Armado, 
that mighty potentate of nonsense, or his page, that handful of wit; with 
Nathaniel the curate, or Holofernes the schoolmaster, and their dispute after 
dinner on tthe golden cadences of poesy'; with Costard the clown, or Dull the 
constable. iBiron is too accomplished a character to be lost to the world, and 
yet he could not appear without his fellow courtiers and the king: and if we 
were to leave out the ladies, the gentlemen would have no mistresses. So that 
we believe we may let the whole play stand as it is, and we shall hardly 
venture to 'set a mark of reprobation on it'. Still we have some objections to 
the style, which we think savours more of the pedantic spirit of Shakespear's 
time than of his own genius; more of controversial divinity, and the logic of 
Peter Lombard, than of the inspiration of the Muse. It transports us quite 
as much to the manners of the court, and the quirks of courts of law, as to 
. the scenes of nature or the fairy-land of his own imagination. Shakespear has 
set himself to imitate the tone of polite conversation then prevailing among 
the fair, the witty, and the learned, and he has imitated it but too faithfully. 
It is as if the hand of Titian had been employed to give grace to the curls of 
a full-bottomed periwig, or Raphael had attempted to give expression to the 
tapestry figures in the House of Lords. 

WALTER PATER. It is this foppery of delicate language, this fashionable play- 
thing of his time, with which Shakespeare is occupied in 
Love's Labour's Lost. He shows us the manner in all its stages; passing from 
the grotesque and vulgar pedantry of Holofernes, through the extravagant 
1 The reat of thii speech U quoted on p. 146. 


but polished caricature of Armado, to become the peculiar characteristic of 
a real though still quaint poetry in Biron himself, who is still chargeable even 
at his best with just a little affectation. As Shakespeare laughs broadly at it in 
Holofernes or Armado, so he is the analyst of its curious charm in Biron; and 
this analysis involves a delicate raillery by Shakespeare himself at his own 
chosen manner. . . . 

As happens with every true dramatist, Shakespeare is for the most part 
hidden behind the persons of his creation. Yet there are certain of his char- 
acters in which we feel that there is something of self-portraiture. And it is 
not so much in his grander, more subtle and ingenious creations that we feel 
this in Hamlet and King Lear as in those slighter and more spontaneously 
developed figures, who, while far from playing principal parts, are yet dis- 
tinguished by a peculiar happiness and delicate ease in the drawing of them; 
figures which possess, above all, that winning attractiveness which there is 
no man but would willingly exercise, and which resemble those works of 
art which, though not meant to be very great or imposing, are yet wrought 
of the choicest material. Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, belongs to this group 
of Shakespeare's characters versatile, mercurial people, such as make good 
actors, and in whom the 

'Nimble spirits of the arteries', 

the finer but still merely animal elements of great wit, predominate. A careful 
delineation of minor, yet expressive traits seems to mark them out as the 
characters of his predilection; and it is hard not to identify him with these 
more than with others. Biron, in Love's Labour's Lost, is perhaps the most 
striking member of this group. In this character, which is never quite in 
touch, never quite on a perfect level of understanding, with the other persons 
of the play, we see, perhaps, a reflex of Shakespeare himself, when he has 
just become able to stand aside from and estimate the first period of his 


H. GRANVILLE-BARKER. Here is a fashionable play; now, by three hundred 
years, out of fashion. Nor did it ever, one supposes, 

make a very wide appeal. It abounds in jokes for the elect. Were you not 
numbered among them you laughed, for safety, in the likeliest places. A year 
or two later the elect themselves might be hard put to it to remember what 
the joke was. . . . 

Drama, as Shakespeare will come to write it, is, first and last, the projection 
of character in action; and devices for doing this, simple and complex, must 
make up three-quarters of its artistry. We can watch his early discovery that 
dialogue is waste matter unless it works to this end; that wit, epigram, senti- 
ment are like paper and sticks in a fireplace, the flaring and crackling counting 
for nothing if the fire itself won't light, if these creatures in whose mouths the 
wit is sounded won't 'come alive'. To the last he kept his youthful delight 
in a pun; and he would write an occasional passage of word-music with a 


minimum of meaning to it (but of maximum emotional value, it will be found, 
to the character that has to speak it). His development of verse to dramatic 
use is a study in itself. He never ceased to develop it, but for a while the 
dramatist had a hard time with the lyric poet. The early plays abound, 
besides, in elaborate embroidery of language done for its own sake. This 
was a fashionable literary exercise and Shakespeare was an adept at it. To 
many young poets of the time their language was a new-found wonder; its 
very handling gave them pleasure. The amazing things it could be made to 
do! He had to discover that they were not much to his purpose; but it is not 
easy to stop doing what you do so well. Yet even in this play we may note 
the difference between the Berowne of 

Light seeking light doth light of light beguile; 
So ere you find where light in darkness lies 
Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes! 

and of the soliloquy beginning 

And I forsooth in love . . . 

Turn also from one of the many sets of wit to Katharine's haunting answer 
when Rosaline twits her with rebellion against Cupid: 

Rosaline. You'll ne'er be friends with him; he kilFd your sister. 
Katharine. He made her melancholy, sad, and heavy: 

And so she died: had she been light, like you, 

Of such a merry, nimble, stirring spirit, 

^She might have been a grandam ere she died 

And so may you, for a light heart lives long. 

Compare it with the set of wit that follows: 

Rosaline. What's your dark meaning, mouse, of this light word? 
Katharine. A light condition in a beauty dark. 
Rosaline. We need more light to find your meaning out. 
Katharine. You'll mar the light, by taking it in snuff; 
Therefore I'll darkly end the argument. 

But Rosaline won't let her, and they manage to get five more rather spicier 
exchanges. It is all very charming, and a 'set of wit' describes it well. Get 
a knowledge of the game and it may be as attractive to watch for a little as 
are a few sets of tennis. But pages on pages of such smart repartee will not 
tell us as much of the speakers as those few simple lines of Katharine's tell us 
of herself and her love for her sister, and of Rosaline too. 

Prefaces to Shakespeare: First Series. 

SIR EDWIN DURNING-LAWRENCE, BT. The 'revealed* and 'all revealing' 

sentence forms a correct Latin hexa- 
meter, and we will proceed to prove that it is without possibility of doubt or 
question the real solution which the 'Author' intended to be known at some 


future time, when he placed the long word Honorificabilitudinitatibus, which 
is composed of twenty-seven letters, on the twenty-seventh line of page 136, 
where it appears as the I5ist word printed in ordinary type (in Love's 
Labour's Lost in the First Folio). 

The all-important statement which reveals the authorship of the pkys in 
the most clear and direct manner (every one of the twenty-seven letters com- 
posing the long word being employed and no others) is in the form of a 
correct Latin hexameter, which reads as follows 


These plays F. Bacon's offspring are preserved for the world. 

Bacon is Shakespeare. 


WRITTEN: 1595. 

PERFORMED: 'Often plaid publiquely' before Qi 1597. 

PUBLISHED: 1597 Qi. 'An Excellent conceited Tragedie of Romeo and 
luliet. As it hath been often (with great applause) plaid 
publiquely, by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his 
Seruants.' A 'bad' Quarto, apparently reproduced from 
memory by two or three actors who had played in a shortened 

1599 >2. 'Newly corrected, augmented, and amended: As it 
hath bene sundry times publiquely acted, by the right Honour- 
able the Lord Chamberlaine his Seruants.' Q2 contains many 
errors, but may have been set up from the original MS with 
some reference to a corrected Qi. Q2 has 'Enter Will Kemp' 
for Qi's 'Enter Peter' (iv. 5. 102). 

1609 Qj. 'As it hath beene sundrie times publiquely Acted, 
by the Kings Maiesties Seruants at the Globe.' Set up from 


>4. 'Written by W. Shake-speare.' No date. Set up from Qj. 
1623 Fi. Set up from Qj. 

S.R.: 1607 Jan 22, by Nicholas Ling. 

1607 Nov 19, transferred to John Smethwick. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. 

SOURCES: Arthur Brooke's poem, The Tragical! Historye of Romeus and 
Juliet (1562), and William Painter's prose version in his 
Palace of Pleasure (i 567). Both these come from a novella by 


The disintegrators attribute much of the play to other men. J. M. Robert- 
son considers it 'a composite play, drafted before Shakespeare by several 
hands, merely revised and expanded by him in the version preserved in Qi, 
and further modified by his and other hands in the version preserved in Q2*. 

In 1680 Otway adapted Romeo and Juliet in his Caius Manus. The scene 
is Rome, and Juliet (Lavinia) wakes before Romeo (Marius) dies. Garrick 
returned to the original, though he retained the scene between the dying 
lovers, this version being played until Kemble's time. 


Nor shall I e're beleeue, or thinke thee dead 
(Though mist) untill our bankrout Stage be sped 
(Impossible) with some new strain t* out-do 
Passions of ///>/, and her Romeo. 

First Folio, 1623. 

PEPYS. To the Opera, and there saw 'Romeo and Juliet', the first time it was 
ever acted, but it is a play of itself the worst that ever I heard, and 
the worst acted that ever I saw these people do, and I am resolved to go no 
more to see the first time of acting, for they were all of them out more or less. 
[Betterton played Romeo, and his wife Juliet.] 

I March 1662. 

DRYDEN. Shake spear show'd the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said 
hirriself, that he was forc'd to kill him in the third Act, to prevent 
being kill'd by him. But, for my part, I cannot find he was so dangerous a 
person: I see nothing in him but what was so exceeding harmless, that he 
might have liv'd to the end of the Play, and dy'd in his bed, without offence 
to any man. 

On the Dramatique Poetry of the Last Age > 1684. 

JOHNSON. This pky is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. 
The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and im- 
portant, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action 
carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular 
opinions, as tragedy requires. 

Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the conversation 
of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. 
Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declara- 
tion made by Shakespeare, that 'he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third 
act, lest he should have been killed by him'. Yet he thinks him 'no such 
formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died 
in his bed', without danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in 
quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to 
the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously under- 
stood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always procure him friends 


that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out 
the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability 
of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are, 
perhaps, out of reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merri- 
ment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive and 

The nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted; he has, 
with great subtility of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, 
obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest. 

His comic scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetic strains are always 
polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however dis- 
tressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit. 

HAZLITT. Romeo and Juliet is the only tragedy which Shakespear has written 
entirely on a love-story. It is supposed to have been his first play, 
and it deserves to stand in that proud rank. There is the buoyant spirit of 
youth in every line, in the rapturous intoxication of hope, and in the bitter- 
ness of despair. It has been said of Romeo and Juliet by a great critic, 1 that 
'whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing 
in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, 
is to be found in this poem'. The description is true; and yet it does not 
answer to our idea of the play. For if it has the sweetness of the rose, it has 
its freshness too; if it has the languor of the nightingale's song, it has also its 
giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern spring, it is as glowing and 
as bright. There is nothing of a sickly and sentimental cast. Romeo and Juliet 
are in love, but they are not love-sick. Everything speaks the very soul of 
pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the passions: the heart beats, the blood 
circulates and mantles throughout. . . . 

Romeo is Hamlet in love. There is the same rich exuberance of passion 
and sentiment in the one, that there is of thought and sentiment in the other. 
Both are absent and self-involved, both live out of themselves in a world of 
imagination. Hamlet is abstracted from everything; Romeo is abstracted 
from everything but his love, and lost in it. His 'frail thoughts dally with 
faint surmise', and are fashioned out of the suggestions of hope, 'the flatteries 
of sleep'. He is himself only in his Juliet; she is his only reality, his heart's 
true home and idol. The rest of the world is to him a passing dream. 

COLERIDGE. I have previously had occasion to speak at large on the subject 
of the three unities of time, place, and action, as applied to the 
drama in the abstract, and to the particular stage for which Shakespeare 
wrote, as far as he can be said to have written for any stage but that of the 
universal mind. I hope I have in some measure succeeded in demonstrating 
that the former two, instead of being rules, were mere inconveniences attached 
to the local peculiarities of the Athenian drama; that the last alone deserved 
the name of a principle, and that in the preservation of this unity Shakspeare 

1 Coleridge. 


stood pre-eminent. Yet, instead of unity of action, I should greatly prefer 
the more appropriate, though scholastic and uncouth, words homogeneity, 
proportionateness, and totality of interest, expressions, which involve the 
distinction, or rather the essential difference, betwixt the shaping skill of 
mechanical talent, and the creative, productive, life-power of inspired genius. 
In the former each part is separately conceived, and then by a succeeding act 
put together; not as watches are made for wholesale (for there each part 
supposes a preconception of the whole in some mind) but more like pictures 
on a motley screen. Whence arises the harmony that strikes us in the wildest 
natural landscapes, in the relative shapes of rocks, the harmony of colours 
in the heaths, ferns, and lichens, the leaves of the beech, and the oak, the 
stems and rich brown branches of the birch and other mountain trees, varying 
from verging autumn to returning spring, compared with the visual effect 
from the greater number of artificial plantations? From this, that the 
natural landscape is effected, as it were, by a single energy modified ab intra 
in each component part. And as this is the particular excellence of the Shake- 
spearian drama generally, so it is especially characteristic of the Romeo and 
Juliet. . . . 

Mercutio is a man possessing all the elements of a poet: the whole world 
was, as it were, subject to his law of association. Whenever he wishes to 
impress anything, all things become his servants for the purpose: all things 
tell the same tale, and sound in unison. This faculty, moreover is combined 
with the manners and feelings of a perfect gentleman, himself utterly uncon- 
scious of his powers. By his loss it was contrived that the whole catastrophe 
of the trageHy should be brought about: it endears him to Romeo, and gives 
to the death of Mercutio an importance which it could not otherwise have 

I say this in answer to an observation, I think by Dryden (to which indeed 
Dr. Johnson has fully replied), that Shakspeare having carried the part of 
Mercutio as far as he could, till his genius was exhausted, had killed him in 
the third Act, to get him out of the way. What shallow nonsense! As I have 
remarked, upon the death of Mercutio the whole catastrophe depends; it is 
produced by it. The scene in which it occurs serves to show how indifference 
to any subject but one, and aversion to activity on the part of Romeo, may 
be overcome and roused to the most resolute and determined conduct. Had 
not Mercutio been rendered so amiable and so interesting, we could not have 
felt so strongly the necessity for Romeo's interference, connecting it im- 
mediately, and passionately, with the future fortunes of the lover and his 
mistress. . . . 

Shakspeare has described this passion in various states and stages, begin- 
ning, as was most natural, with love in the young. Does he open his play by 
making Romeo and Juliet in love at first sight at the first glimpse, as any 
ordinary thinker would do? Certainly not: he knew what he was about, and 
how he was to accomplish what he was about: he was to develope the whole 
passion, and he commences with the first elements that sense of imperfec- 
tion, that yearning to combine itself with something lovely. Romeo became 
enamoured of the idea he had formed in his own mind, and then, as it were, 


christened the first real being of the contrary sex as endowed with the per- 
fections he desired. He appears to be in love with Rosaline; but, in truth, he 
is in love only with his own idea. He "felt that necessity of being beloved 
which no noble mind can be without. Then our poet, our poet who so well 
knew human nature, introduces Romeo to Juliet, and makes it not only a 
violent, but a permanent love a point for which Shakespeare has been 
ridiculed by the ignorant and unthinking. Romeo is first represented in a 
state most susceptible of love, and then, seeing Juliet, he took and retained 
the infection. 

SIR WALTER RALEIGH. Since the rise of Romantic criticism, the appreciation 
of Shakespeare has become a kind of auction, where 

the highest bidder, however extravagant, carries off the prize. To love and 
to be wise is not given to man; the poets themselves have run to wild extremes 
in their anxiety to find all Shakespeare in every part of him; so that it has 
become to be almost a mark of insensibility to consider his work rationally 
and historically as a whole. Infinite subtlety of purpose has been attributed 
to him in cases where he accepted a story as he found it, or half contemptu- 
ously threw in a few characters and speeches to suit the requirements of his 
Elizabethan audience. Coleridge, for example, finds it 'a strong instance of 
the fineness of Shakespeare's insight into the nature of the passions, that 
Romeo is introduced already love-bewildered', doting on Rosaline. Yet the 
whole story of Romeo's passion for Rosaline is set forth in Arthur Brooke's 
poem, from which Shakespeare certainly drew the matter of his play. Again, 
the same great critic asserts that 'the low soliloquy of the Porter' in Macbeth 
was 'written for the mob by some other hand, perhaps with Shakespeare's 
consent', and that 'finding it take, he with the remaining ink of a pen other- 
wise employed, just interpolated the words "I'll devil-porter it no further: 
I had thought to have let in some of all professions, that go the primrose way 
to the everlasting bonfire". Of the rest not one syllable has the ever-present 
being of Shakespeare.' That is to say, Coleridge does not like the Porter's 
speech, so he denies it to Shakespeare. But one sentence in it is too good to 
lose, so Shakespeare must be at hand to write it. This is the very ecstasy of 
criticism, and sends us back to the cool and manly utterances of Dryden, 
Johnson, and Pope with a heightened sense of the value of moderation and 



WRITTEN: 1595* 

PERFORMED: 1595. Sir Ed. Hoby invited Sir Robert Cecil to see a per- 
formance of 'K. Richard' on Dec. 9th. 
1 60 1. 7 Feb. At the Globe. 
1631. Revived at The Globe. 


S.R.: *597 Aug 29, by Andrew Wise. Transferred to Matthew 

Law in 1603. 


PUBLISHED: 1597 Qi. 'As it hath beene publikely acted by the right 
Honourable the Lorde Chamberlaine his Seruants.' 
A 'good* Quarto, probably printed from Shakespeare's MS. 
1598 J>2. 'By William Shake-speare.' Printed from Qi, 
1598 Qj. Printed from >2. 

1608 4. 'With new additions of the Parliament Sceane, and 
the deposing of King Richard, As it hath been lately acted by 
the Kinges Majesties seruants, at the Globe.' Printed from 
3. The 'deposition scene' appears to have been part of the 
original play which was cut when Qi was printed. The version 
in 4 seems to be a shorthand report. 
1615 Qj. Printed from 4. 
1623 Fi. Printed from 5. 
1634 Q6. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1 598. 

SOURCES: Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. 

The Elizabethans saw parallels between the reigns of Richard II and 
Elizabeth. The Earl of Essex was charged with High Treason 'for the dis- 
posing and settling to himself Aswell the Crowne of England, as of the king- 
dome of Ireland'. On the day before his rebellion, 8 Feb. 1601, his sup- 
porters persuaded Augustine Phillips to revive Richard II at the Globe. 
Nahum Tate, Theobald, and Kean all made adaptations of Richard IL 
J. M. Robertson considers Richard II an adaptation by Shakespeare of a 
play by Marlowe. 

SIR EDWARD COKE. I protest upon my soul and conscience I doe beleeve she 
should not have long lived after she had been in your 
power. Note but the precedents of former ages, how long lived Richard the 
Second after he was surprised in the same manner? 

Speech at the Trial of the Earl of Essex, 1601. 

FRANCIS BACON. The afternoone before the rebellion, Merricke, with a great 
company of others, that afterwards were all in the action, 
had procured to bee played before them, the play of deposing King Richard 
the second. Neither was it casuall, but a play bespoken by Merrick. And 
not so onely, but when it was told him by one of the players, that the playe 
was olde, and they should haue losse in playing it, because fewe would come 
to it: there was fourty shillings extraordinarie giuen to play it, and so there- 
upon playd it was. So earnest hee was to satisfie his eyes with the sight of 


that tragedie which hee thought soone after his lord should bring from the 
stage to the state, but that God turned it vpon their owne heads. 

A Declaration of the Treasons by Robert late Earle of Essex, 1601. 

DRYDEN. I cannot leave this subject, before I do justice to that divine poet, 
by giving you one of his passionate descriptions: 'tis of Richard the 
Second when he was deposed, and led in triumph through the streets of 
London by Henry of Bullingbrook: the painting of it is so lively, and the 
words so moving, that I have scarce read anything comparable to it in any 
other language. Suppose you have seen already the fortunate usurper passing 
through the crowd, and followed by the shouts and acckmations of the people; 
and now behold King Richard entering upon the scene: consider the wretched- 
ness of his condition, and his carriage in it; and refrain from pity, if you can 

As in a theatre, the eyes of men, 

After a well-graced actor leaves the stage, 

Are idly bent on him that enters next, 

Thinking his prattle to be tedious: 

Even so, or with much more contempt, men's eyes 

Did scowl on Richard: no man cried, God save him: 

No joyful tongue gave him his welcome home, 

But dust was thrown upon his sacred head, 

Which with such gentle sorrow he shook off, 

His face still combating with tears and smiles 

(The badges of his grief and patience), 

That had not God (for some strong purpose) steel' d 

The hearts of men, they must perforce have melted, 

And barbarism itself have pitied him. 

Preface to Trot /us and Cressia'a, 1679. 

JOHNSON. Jonson, who, in his Catiline and Sejanus, has inserted many 
speeches from the Roman historians, was, perhaps, induced to that 
practice by the example of Shakespeare, who had condescended sometimes 
to copy more ignoble writers. But Shakespeare had more of his own than 
Jonson, and, if he sometimes was willing to spare his labour, showed by what 
he performed at other times, that his extracts were made by choice or idleness 
rather than necessity. 

This play is one of those which Shakespeare revised; but as success in works 
of invention is not always proportionate to labour, it is not finished at last 
with the happy force of some other of his tragedies, nor can be said much to 
affect the passions or enlarge the understanding. 

COLERIDGE. I have stated that the transitional link between the epic poem 
and the drama is the historic drama; that in the epic poem a 
pre-announced fate gradually adjusts and employs the will and the events as 
its instruments, whilst the drama, on the other hand, places fate and will in 
opposition to each other, and is then most perfect, when the victory of fate 
is obtained in consequence of imperfections in the opposing will, so as to 


leave a final impression that the fate itself is but a higher and a more intelligent 

From the length of the speeches, and the circumstance that, with one 
exception, the events are all historical, and presented in their results, not 
produced by acts seen by, or taking place before, the audience, this tragedy 
is ill suited to our present large theatres. But in itself, and for the closet, I 
feel no hestiation in placing it as the first and most admirable of all Shake- 
speare's purely historical plays. For the two parts of Henry IV form a 
species of themselves, which may be named the mixed drama. The distinc- 
tion does not depend on the mere quantity of historical events in the play 
compared with the fictions; for there is as much history in Macbeth as in 
Richard, but in the relation of the history to the plot. In the purely historical 
plays, the history forms the plot; in the mixed, it directs it; in the rest, as 
Macbeth, Hamlet, Cymbeline, Lear, it subserves it. But, however unsuited 
to the stage this drama may be, God forbid that even there it should fall dead 
on the hearts of jacobinized Englishmen! Then, indeed, we might say 
pr&teriit gloria mundi! For the spirit of patriotic reminiscence is the all- 
permeating soul of this noble work. It is, perhaps, the most purely historical 
of Shakespeare's dramas. There are not in it, as in the others, characters 
introduced merely for the purpose of giving a greater individuality and real- 
ness, as in the comic parts of Henry IV, by presenting, as it were, our very 
selves. Shakspeare avails himself of every opportunity to effect the great 
object of the historic drama, that, namely, of familiarizing the people to the 
great names of their country, and thereby of exciting a steady patriotism, a 
love of just liberty, and a respect for all those fundamental institutions of 
social life, which bind men together. . . . 

Richard is not meant to be a debauchee; but we see in him that sophistry 
which is common to man, by which we can deceive our own hearts, and at 
one and the same time apologize for, and yet commit, the error. Shakspeare 
has represented this character in a very peculiar manner. He has not made 
him amiable with counterbalancing faults; but has openly and broadly drawn 
those faults without reserve, relying on Richard's disproportionate sufferings 
and gradually emergent good qualities for our sympathy; and this was possible, 
because his faults are not positive vices, but spring entirely from defect of 
character. . . . 

No doubt, something of Shakspeare's punning must be attributed to his 
age, in which direct and formal combats of wit were a favourite pastime of 
the courtly and accomplished. It was an age more favourable, upon the whole, 
to vigour of intellect than the present, in which a dread of being thought 
pedantic dispirits and flattens the energies of original minds. But indepen- 
dently of this, I have no hesitation in saying that a pun, if it be congruous 
with the feeling of the scene, is not only allowable in the dramatic dialogue, 
but oftentimes one of the most effectual intensives of passion. 

HAZLITT. Richard II is a play little known compared with Richar^ 
which last is a play that every unfledged candidate for thc^t 
fame chuses to strut and fret his hour upon the stage in; yet we confc ss that 


we prefer the nature and feeling of the one to the noise and bustle of the 
other; at least, as we are so often forced to see it acted. In Richard II the 
weakness of the king leaves us leisure to take a greater interest in the mis- 
fortunes of the man. After the first act, in which the arbitrariness of his 
behaviour only proves his want of resolution, we see him staggering under the 
unlooked-for blows of fortune, bewailing his loss of kingly power, not pre- 
venting it, sinking under the aspiring genius of Bolingbroke, his authority 
trampled on, his hopes failing him, and his pride crushed and broken down 
under insults and injuries, which his own misconduct had provoked, but 
which he has not courage or manliness to resent. The change of tone and 
behaviour in the two competitors for the throne according to their change of 
fortune, from the capricious sentence of banishment passed by Richard upon 
Bolingbroke, the suppliant offers and modest pretensions of the latter on his 
return, to the high and haughty tone with which he accepts Richard's resigna- 
tion of the crown after the loss of all his power, the use which he makes of 
the deposed king to grace his triumphal progress through the streets of London, 
and the final intimation of his wish for his death, which immediately finds a 
servile executioner, is marked throughout with complete effect and without 
the slightest appearance of effort. The steps by which Bolingbroke mounts 
the throne are those by which Richard sinks into the grave. We feel neither 
respect nor love for the deposed monarch; for he is as wanting in energy as 
in principle: but we pity him, for he pities himself. His heart is by no means 
hardened against himself, but bleeds afresh at every new stroke of mischance, 
and his sensibility, absorbed in his own person, and unused to misfortune, is 
not only tenderly alive to its own sufferings, but without the fortitude to 
bear them. He is, however, human in his distresses; for to feel pain, and 
sorrow, weakness, disappointment, remorse and anguish, is the lot of humanity, 
and we sympathise with him accordingly. The sufferings of the man make us 
forget that he ever was a king. 

LAMB. The reluctant pangs of abdicating royalty in Edward furnished hints 
which Shakspeare scarce improved in his Richard the Second; and 
the death scene of Marlowe's king moves pity and terror beyond any scene 
ancient or modern with which I am acquainted. 

Specimens of English Dramatic Poets. 

GEORGE SAINTSBURY. The whole ordonnance and handling of the play, 
whether we look at plot, character, diction, or versi- 
fication, speak a period at which the poet has already learned a great deal, 
but has not learned everything. He has already acquired the full disposition 
of the chronicle-play after a fashion which nobody but himself had yet shown; 
but he has not discovered the full secret of diversifying and adorning it. The 
historic page is translated into a dramatic one with the indefinable mastery 
in adjusting to the theatre the 'many actions of many men' at many places 
and times which perhaps no other dramatist has ever fully shown. But, to 
mention nothing else, there is a want of tragi-comic relief: the history, in- 


teresting as it is, is still too much of a mere history. So, in the second respect, 
the poet has left his predecessors, and even to some extent himself, far behind 
in the art of breathing a soul into the figures of the historic tapestry; but he 
has not yet made it, as he was to make it later, a wholly complete and indi- 
vidual soul. Of the central figure we shall speak anon; but it is almost more 
important that the accessories, though never mere 'supers', still lack that full 
Shakespearean individuality 'in the round* of which the poet is so prodigal 
later. . . . They have, many of them, the rudiments of the great Shakespearean 
quality of 'setting the principal character going'; but as that character itself 
is not fully worked out, so their powers are not fully called into action. . . . 

The same interesting character of transition is over the diction, in the 
wider sense, and the verse. The latter is far advanced beyond the chaos of 
the earliest plays, where rhyme and blank verse, 'fourteeners' and sheer 
doggerel, lyrical measures and prose, jostle each other as Shakespeare succes- 
sively and impartially experiments with the imperfect implements of his 
predecessors. The blank verse itself has made great strides; it is one of the 
most noticeable points of that contrast with Marlowe, to which we shall 
come presently, that Shakespeare has improved upon the stately staccato of 
the 'dead shepherd' almost as much as Marlowe himself had improved in his 
normal passages on the not even stately stump of 'Gorboduc'. But it is still 
not perfectly flexible and cursive; it has not completely mastered the secrets 
of the pause, and the varied trisyllabic and disyllabic foot, and the consequent 
verse paragraph. There is more rhyme than there need be; there is even the 
quatrain, which hardly even Dryden, in his first flush of passion for rhyme on 
the stagey. would have ventured to endorse. And on the other hand, there is 
no (or next to no) prose that remarkable provider of relief, appetite, and 
many other good things in the intervals of tragic verse. The longer speeches 
still possess something, nay much, of that tirade character that rhetorical 
rather than poetical ordonnance- which disappears so marvellously in the 
tragedies of the greatest time even where rhetoric was almost excusable. 

The diction of the play, from the present point of view, is a subject almost 
more interesting, but much more delicate and uncertain. Speaking from many 
years' reading, I should say that 'Richard II' is the most carefully written of 
all Shakespeare's plays. A certain constraint is over almost all of it. . . . There 
is nothing of the almost riotous variety and license of the earliest dramas. 
There is marked abstinence, as a rule of course with exceptions from that 
play on words which, as some would have it, was the very breath of Shake- 
speare's nostrils. The Mario wesque magniloquence appears; but it is almost 
always studiously toned, adjusted, clarified. In short, in this, as in other 
matters, the poet is between his two periods of freedom, and in one, as it 
were, almost of pupilage. He is afraid, perhaps he does not even wish, to 'let 
himself go'. He breaks away and soars sometimes, but not very often, in the 
direction of sublimity; he scarcely ever breaks away in the other direction of 
homeliness. He is, on the lines which he is following, almost 'correct'* And 
the worst that can be said of the play is that this approach to correctness 
brings with it the inevitable concomitant of a certain loss of colour. 

It is probable that this correctness not less relatively certain because it is 


not according to the Three Unities has done the piece harm with some 
critics in the inevitable comparison with Marlowe's 'Edward IP. Shakespeare 
has despised, as he always did despise, the illegitimate attractions; and there 
is nothing answering to Edward's fatal passion for Gaveston to excuse if it 
can be called excuse the misdoings of Edward's great-grandson. And 
Shakespeare was already discarding, though he had not yet quite discarded, 
the incomprehensibleness of Marlowe. That mighty but incomplete and far 
from universal genius always, as his continuer in the next generation said, 
'threw himself headlong into clouds' and abode in them, with the profit as 
with the disadvantage of his dwelling-place. Lamb may be right in taking 
the pathos of Edward's ghastly and degrading end as greater than that of the 
final moment, which becomes Richard better than any passage of his happier 
life. But the decision is at least open to argument. Lamb, exquisite critic as 
he was, was always a little liable to the exquisite critics' sin of preferring what 
the vulgar do not know to what they do, and in his time Marlowe was all 
but utterly unknown. In almost every other respect 'Richard IP seems to me 
to have the advantage. 

Introduction to Richard II. 


WRITTEN: 1596. 

PERFORMED: A Shrew was acted 'sundry times' before its publication in 
1594. On June I3th, 1594 Henslowe received 93. for a per- 
formance of 'the Tamynge of A Shrowe\ 
The first definite reference to The Shrew is: 'On Tusday night 
at Saint James, the 26 of Novemb. 1633, was acted before the 
Kinge and Queene, The Taminge of the Shrewe. Likt.' 

S.R.: J 594 May 2nd, by Peter Short, 'the Tayminge of a Shrowe'. 

1607. Transferred to Nicholas Ling, and then to John Smeth- 

These entries refer to the older anonymous play, The Taming 
of A Shrew, which was published in 1594 'As it was sundry 
times acted by the Right honorable the Earle of Pembrook his 
seruants', and again in 1596 and 1607. 

In their composite entry for the Folio in 1623, of Shakespeare's 
plays that had not previously been published, Blount and 
Jaggard omit The Taming of The Shrew and King John, pre- 
sumably because they passed as reprints of the older plays The 
Taming of A Shrew, and The Troublesome Reign of King John. 


PUBLISHED: 1623 Fi. Probably set up from MS used as stage-copy, for 
actors' names occur in the stage-directions. 
1631 Q. 'A Wittie and Pleasant Comedie Called The Taming 
of the Shrew. As it was acted by his Maiesties Seruants at the 
Blacke Friers and the Globe. Written by Will. Shakespeare.' 
Set up from Fi. 

MERES: Not mentioned in his Palladia Tamia (1598), but it seems 
probable that by Loue labours wonne he meant The Taming of 
the Shrew. (See p. 267.) 

SOURCES: The Taming of A Shrew, and Ariosto's / Suppositi, translated by 
George Gascoigne as The Supposes. 

It seems probable that Shakespeare collaborated in this pky: that he wrote 
the Petruchio-Katharine scenes and the Sly episode with its Warwickshire 
references, while his unknown collaborator wrote the Bianca sub-plot. 

Soon after the Restoration John Lacy wrote a coarse prose version called 
Sauny the Scot. It was also adapted by Garrick. 


Shakspeare your VTincot-A\& hath much renownd, 
That fox'd a Beggar so (by chance was found 
Sleeping) that there needed not many a word 
* To make him to believe he was a Lord: 
But you affirm (and in it seem most eager) 
'Twill make a Lord as drunk as any Beggar. 
Bid Norton brew such Ale as Shakspeare fancies 
Did put Kit S/y into such Lordly trances: 
And let us meet there (for a fit of Gladness) 
And drink our selves merry in sober sadness. 

To Mr. Clement Fisher of Wincott, 1658. 

PEPYS. To the King's house, and there saw 'The Tameing of a Shrew', 
which hath some very good pieces in it, but generally is but a mean 
pky; and the best part, 'Sawny', done by Lacy; and hath not half its life, by 
reason of the words, I suppose, not being understood, at least by me. (9 April 

To the King's playhouse, and there saw a silly pky and an old one, 'The 
Taming of a Shrew'. (2 Nov. 1667.) 

JOHNSON. Of this pky the two plots are so well united, that they can hardly 
be called two, without injury to the art with which they are inter- 
woven. The attention is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, 
yet is not distracted by unconnected incidents. 


The part between Catharine and Petruchio is eminently sprightly and 
diverting. At the marriage of Bianca, the arrival of the real father, perhaps, 
produces more perplexitjrthan pleasure. The whole play is very popular and 

HAZLITT. The Taming of the Shrew is almost the only one of Shakespeare's 
comedies that has a regular plot, and downright moral. It is full 
of bustle, animation, and rapidity of action. It shows admirably how self-will 
is only to be got the better of by stronger will, and how one degree of ridicu- 
lous perversity is only to be driven out by another still greater. Petruchio is 
a madman in his senses; a very honest fellow, who hardly speaks a word of 
truth, and succeeds in all his tricks and impostures. He acts his assumed 
character to the life, with the most fantastical extravagance, with complete 
presence of mind, with un tired animal spirits, and without a particle of ill 
humour from beginning to end. . . . 

We have heard the Honey-Moon called 'an elegant Katherine and Pet- 
ruchio'. We suspect we do not understand this word elegant in the sense that 
many people do. But in our sense of the word, we should call Lucentio's 
description of his mistress elegant. 

Tranio, I saw her coral lips to move, 

And with her breath she did perfume the air: 

Sacred and sweet was all I saw in her. 

When Biondello tells the same Lucentio for his encouragement, 'I knew a 
wench married in an afternoon as she went to the garden for parsley to stuff 
a rabbit, and so may you, sir* there is nothing elegant in this, and yet we 
hardly know which of the two passages is the best. . . . 

The character of Sly and the remarks with which he accompanies the play 
are as good as the play itself . . . 'The Slies are no rogues', as he says of him- 
self. We have a great predilection for this representative of the family; and 
what makes us like him the better is, that we take him to be of kin (not many 
degrees removed) to Sancho Panza. 

GERVINUS. The scenes between Petruchio and Katherine might be converted 
into a mere joke, and that of the commonest order. It is sad to 
think that a man like Garrick has done this. He contracted the piece, under 
the title of Katherine and Petruchio, into a play of three acts; he expunged 
the more refined part, the plot for the wooing of Bianca, and he debased the 
coarse remainder into a clumsy caricature. The acting of the pair was coarsely 
extravagant, according to the custom which has subsequently maintained its 
ground; Woodward at the same period acted Petruchio with such fury, that 
he ran the fork into the finger of his fellow actress (Mrs. Clive), and when 
he carried her off the stage, threw her down. Thus is the piece still performed 
in London as a concluding farce, with all disgusting overloadings of vulgar 


buffoonery, even after the genuine play was acted again at the Haymarket in 
1 844, and was received with applause. 1 . . . 

The wooer, Petruchio, is fashioned out of coarse clay; he comes not to 
Padua as Lucentio does, for the sake of study, but to marry for gold. The 
rich shrew is offered to him in jest, and he enters upon his courtship in a 
spirit of good-humoured bravado. ... 

Katherine, whom he undertakes to woo, is like a wasp, like a foal that 
kicks from its halter pert, quick and determined, but full of good heart; 
Petruchio already takes pleasure in her nature, because her honest heart 
overflows in the right place, as in the last act with the widow. 

Shakespeare Commentaries, 1874. 


WRITTEN: 1596. 

PERFORMED: 'Sundry times publickely acted' before Qi, 1600. 

1604. 'On New yeares night we had a play of Robin goode- 
fellow.' (From a Letter of D. Carleton to J. Chamberlain.) 

S.R.: 1600, Oct. 8th, by Thomas Fisher. 

PUBLISHED: 1600 Qi. 'As it hath beene sundry times publickely acted, by 
the Right honourable, the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. 
Written by William Shakespeare.' A fairly good text, possibly 
printed from Shakespeare's MS. 

1619 Qz. Dated 1600. One of the ten plays published by 
Jaggard in 1619, many of them with false dates. Set up from 


1623 Fi. Set up from >2, but with a few additional stage 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1598. 

SOURCES: The fantasy is essentially Shakespeare's, but the following books 
may have furnished hints: 

Theseus and Hippolyta: Plutarch's Life of Theseus, and 
Chaucer's Knights Tale. 

The two pairs of lovers: Munday's Two Italian Gentlemen. 
Pyramus and Thisbe: Ovid's Metamorphoses. 
Robin Goodfellow: Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft. 
Oberon and fairies: Greene's James IF. 

1 This refers to Benjamin Webster's remarkable production: remarkable because of its 
truth and simplicity at a time when scenery was beginning to overwhelm the plays. 


It is possible that A Midsummer Nights Dream was written for a wedding 
entertainment and converted into a play for the public stage by some altera- 
tions to the last act. 

In 1692 Betterton produced The Fairy Queen at Dorset Garden Theatre, 
an adaptation of the Fairy and Clown elements of A Midsummer Nights 
Dream with music by Purcell, dancing, and elaborate spectacle. Garrick 
adapted it, and so did F. Reynolds in 1816. 

JOHN SPENCER. Forasmuch as this Courte hath beene informed, by Mr 
Comisary general, of a greate misdemenor committed in the 
house of the right honorable Lo. Bishopp of Lincolne, by entertaining into 
his house divers Knights and Ladyes, with many other householders servants, 
uppon the 27th Septembris (1631), being the Saboth day, to see a playe or 
tragidie there acted; which began aboute tenn of the clocke at night, and 
ended about two or three of the clocke in the morning: 

Wee do therefore order, and decree, that the Rt honorable John, Lord 
Bishopp of Lincolne, shall, for his offence, erect a free Schoole in Eaton, or 
else at Greate Staughton, and endowe the same with 2O 1 per ann. for the 
maintenance of the schoolmaster for ever. . . . 

Likewis wee doe order, that Mr Wilson, because hee was a speciall plotter 
and contriver of this business, and did in such a brutishe manner acte the 
same with an Asses head (The playe, Af. Nights .Dr 1 ); and therefore hee 
shall, upon Tuisday next, from 6 of the clocke in the morning till six of the 
clocke at night, sitt in the Porters Lodge at my Lords Bishopps House, with 
his feete in the stocks, and attyred with his asse head, and a bottle of hay sett 
before him, and this subscription on his breast: 

Good people I have played the beast, 

And brought ill things to passe: 
I was a man, but thus have made 

My selfe a silly Asse. 

A Co fie of the Order or Decree (ex officio Comisarii genera/is). 

PEPYS. To the King's Theatre, where we saw 'Midsummer's Night's 
Dream', which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is 
the most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life. 

Diary, 2tyh Sept. 1662. 

JOHNSON. Wild and fantastical as this play is, all the parts, in their various 
modes, are well written, and give the kind of pleasure which the 
author designed. Fairies in his time were much in fashion; common tradition 
had made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made them great. 

COLERIDGE. Helena's speech: 

I will go tell him of fair Hermia's flight, &c. 
1 These words are written in the margin, in another hand. 


I am convinced that Shakespeare availed himself of the tide of this play in his 
own mind, and worked upon it as a dream throughout, but especially, and, 
perhaps, unpleasingly, in this broad determination of ungrateful treachery in 
Helena, so undisguisedly avowed to herself, and this, too, after the witty cool 
philosophizing that precedes. The act itself is natural, arid the resolve so to 
act is, I fear, likewise too true a picture of the lax hold which principles have 
on a woman's heart, when opposed to, or even- separated from, passion and 
inclination. . . . Still, however just in itself, the representation of this is not 
poetical; we shrink from it, and cannot harmonize it with the ideal. 

HAZLITT. It is astonishing that Shakespear should be considered, not only by 
foreigners, but by many of our own critics, as a gloomy and heavy 
writer, who painted nothing but 'gorgons and hydras, and chimeras dire*. 
His subtlety exceeds that of all other dramatic writers, insomuch that a 
celebrated person of the present day said that he regarded him rather as a 
metaphysician than a poet. His delicacy and sportive gaiety are infinite. In 
the Midsummer Nighfs Dream alone, we should imagine, there is more 
sweetness and beauty of description than in the whole range of French poetry 
put together. What we mean is this, that we will produce out of that single 
play ten passages, to which we do not think any ten passages in the works of 
the French poets can be opposed, dispkying equal fancy and imagery. . . . 

It has been suggested to us, that the Midsummer Night's Dream would do 
admirably to get up as a Christmas after-piece; and our prompter proposed 
that Mr. % Kean should play the part of Bottom, as worthy of his great 
talents. . . . 

Alas the experiment has been tried, and has failed; not through the fault 
of Mr. Kean, who did not pky the part of Bottom, nor of Mr. Liston, who 
did, and who pkyed it well, but from the nature of things. The Midsummer 
Night's Dream y when acted, is converted from a delightful fiction into a dull 
pantomime. The spectacle was grand; but the spirit was evaporated, the 
genius was fled. Poetry and the stage do not agree well together. The attempt 
to reconcile them in this instance fails not only of effect, but of decorum. The 
/Vi*/can have no pkce upon the stage, which is a picture without perspective; 
everything there is in the foreground. That which was merely an airy shape, 
a dream, a passing thought, immediately becomes an unmanageable reality. 
Where all is left to the imagination (as in the case of reading) every circum- 
stance, near or remote, has an equal chance of being kept in mind, and tells 
according to the mixed impression of all that has been suggested. But the 
imagination cannot sufficiently qualify the actual impressions of the senses. 
Any offence given to the eye is not to be got rid of by explanation. Thus 
Bottom's head in the play is a fantastic illusion, produced by magic spells: on 
the stage it is an ass's head, and nothing more; certainly a very strange costume 
for a gentleman to appear in. Fancy cannot be embodied any more than a 
simile can be painted; and it is as idle to attempt it as to personate Wall or 
Moonshine. Fairies are not incredible, but fairies six feet high are so. Monsters 


are not shocking, if they are seen at a proper distance. When ghosts appear 
at mid-day, when apparitions stalk along Cheapside, then may the Midsummer 
Nights Dream be represented without injury at Covent Garden or at Drury 
Lane. The boards of a theatre and the regions of fancy are not the same 

BENEDETTO CROCE. The quintessence of all these comedies (as we may say 
of Hamlet in respect of the great tragedies) is the Mid- 
summer Nights Dream. Here the quick ardours, the inconstancies, the 
caprices, the illusions, the delusions, every sort of love folly, become embodied 
and weave a world of their own, as living and as real as that of those who 
are visited by these affections, tormented or rendered ecstatic, raised on high 
or hurled downward by them, in such a way that everything is equally real 
or equally fantastic, as you may please to call it. The sense of dream, of a 
dream-reality, persists and prevents our feeling the chilly sense of allegory or 
of apology. The little drama seems born of a smile, so delicate, refined and 
ethereal it is. Graceful and delicate to a degree is also the setting of the 
dream, the celebration of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta and the 
theatrical performance of the artisans, for these are not merely ridiculous in 
their clumsiness, they are also childlike and ingenuous, arousing a sort of 
gay pity: we do not laugh at them: we smile. Oberon and Titania are at 
variance owing to reciprocal wrongs, and trouble has arisen in the world. 
Puck obeys the command of Oberon and sets to work, teasing, punishing and 
correcting. But in performing this duty of punishing and correcting, he 
too makes mistakes, and the love intrigue becomes more complicated and 
active. Here we find a resemblance to the rapid passage into opposite 
states and the strange complications that arose in Italian knightly romances, 
as the result of drinking the water from one of two opposite fountains 
whereof one filled the heart with amorous desires, the other turned first 
ardours to ice. 

Ariosto, Shakespeare, and Comeille (trans. Douglas A ins lie). 


WRITTEN: 15 97. 

PERFORMED: First recorded performance 1737. 

S.R.: No entry. On Nov. 8th 1623 Blounte and Jaggard entered for 

their copy of all Shakespeare's plays that had not previously 
been published as Quartos, except King John and The Taming 
of the Shrew, possibly because they passed as reprints of the 
older plays The Troublesome Reign and The Taming of A Shrew* 


PUBLISHED: 1623 Pi. A fairly good text. 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1 598. 

SOURCES: The Troublesome Raigne of lohn King of England, with the 
discouerie of King Richard Cordelions Ease sonne (vulgarly 
named, The Bastard Fawconbridge): also the death of King lohn 
at Swinste ad Abbey, 1591. 

The Second fart of the troublesome Raigne of King lohn, con- 
teining the death of Arthur Plantaginet, the landing of Lewes, 
and the foysning of King lohn at Swinstead Abbey, 1 591 . 
In 1611 the two parts were printed together as being 'Written 
by W. Sh.'; in 1622 they were reprinted and openly ascribed 
to 'W. Shakespeare'. 

The author of The Troublesome Reign is unknown, but was 
possibly Peele or Marlowe. Shakespeare follows the action of 
the old play fairly closely, but entirely rewrites it. 

Gibber adapted King John under the title of Papal Tyranny, but the news 
of its proposed performance led to such a clamour that 'Gibber went to the 
playhouse, and, without saying a word to anybody, took the play from the 
prompter's desk and marched off with it in his pocket'. King John was 
revived by Rich in 1737, and by Garrish before the '45, when even Gibber's 
version ran for ten nights at the rival house of Coven t Garden. 

JOHNSON. The tragedy of King John, though not written with the utmost 
power of Shakespeare, is varied with a very pleasing interchange of 
incidents and characters. The lady's grief is very affecting, and the character 
of the Bastard contains that mixture of greatness and levity which this author 
delighted to exhibit. 

HAZLITT. King John is the last of the historical plays we shall have to speak 
of; and we are not sorry that it is. If we are to indulge our imagina- 
tions, we had rather do it upon an imaginary theme; if we are to find subjects 
for the exercise of our pity and terror, we prefer seeking them in fictitious 
danger and fictitious distress. It gives a soreness to our feelings of indignation 
or sympathy, when we know that in tracing the progress of sufferings and 
crimes, we are treading upon real ground, and recollect that the poet's dream 
'denoted a foregone conclusion* irrevocable ills, not conjured up by fancy, but 
placed beyond the reach of poetical justice. That the treachery of King John, 
the death of Arthur, the grief of Constance, had a real truth in history, 
sharpens the sense of pain, while it hangs a leaden weight on the heart and the 
imagination. Something whispers us that we have no right to make a mock 
of calamities like these, or to turn the truth of things into the puppet and 
plaything of our fancies. 'To consider thus' may be 'to consider too curiously'; 
but still we think that the actual truth of the particular events, in proportion 


as we are conscious of it, is a drawback on the pleasure as well as the dignity 
of tragedy. . . . 

This, like the other plays taken from English history, is written in a re- 
markably smooth and flowing style, very different from some of the tragedies, 
Macbeth for instance. The passages consist of a series of single lines, not 
running into one another. This peculiarity in the versification, which is most 
common in the three parts of Henry VI, has been assigned as a reason why 
those plays were not written by Shakespear. But the same structure of verse 
occurs in his other undoubted plays, as in Rich ard II and in King John. 

RICHARD GARNETT. This mailed tragedy stands to Shakespeare's other plays 
of English history in the relation of a prologue, not 
merely as first in order of period, but as depicting a rudimentary condition 
of English society. It is Shakespeare's one purely mediaeval play, for by 
Henry IV's time a modern element has come in, and Richard II is rather a 
study of character than a delineation of contemporary manners. 'King John', 
on the other hand, gives 'the very form and pressure of the time'. It is there- 
fore distinguished by the overwhelming force of the passions represented, and 
also by their simplicity. Every leading character has a single object, which 
he pursues with no more deviation than the stress of circumstances demands. 
John would save his crown and Faulconbridge his country; Constance would 
vindicate her son's rights and Pandulph would subjugate England to the 
Pope. There is no complication of motives, no hesitation or qualification; 
passion is primitive, simple, and Titanic. The language is consequently high 
pitched throughout, but without exaggeration. Everything is on the grand 
scale, as it ought to be when the interlocutors are kings, queens, princesses, 
nobles, and cardinals, and there is hardly a person of humble birth or low 
calling in the piece. 

Introduction to King John. 


WRITTEN: 1597. 

PERFORMED: 'As it hath beene diuers times acted by the Lord Chamberlaine 
his Seruants* before Qi, 1600. 

1604-5. According to the Revels Account it was twice per- 
formed at Court (Whitehall) by 'His Maiesties plaiers': 'on 
Shrousunday', and 'On Shroutusday A play Cauled the Mart- 
chant of Venis Againe Commanded By the Kings Maiestie', by 

S.R.: 1598- July 22 'James Robertes. Entred for his copie ... a 

booke of the Marchaunt of Venyce. . . . Prouided, that yt bee 


not prynted by the said James Robertes or anye other what- 
soeuer without lycence first had from the Right honorable the 
lord Chamberlen.' 

1600 '28 Octobris. Thomas Haies ... by Consent of master 
Robertes. A booke called the booke of the merchant of Venyce.' 
1619. Transferred to Laurence Haies. 

PUBLISHED: 1600 Qi. 'The most excellent Historic of the Merchant of 
Venice. With the extreame cruelty of Shylocke the lewe 
towards the sayd Merchant, in cutting a iust pound of his 
flesh: and the obtayning of Portia by the choyse of three chests. 
As it hath beene diuers times acted by the Lord Chamberlaine 
his Seruants. Written by William Shakespeare.' Qi is a 'good* 
Quarto, probably printed from Shakespeare's MS. 
1619 Q2. One of the ten plays issued by William Jaggard, some 
of them with false dates. 1 This Q is dated 1600. Set up from 


1623 Fr. Set up from Qi. 

1637 S3- 
1652 Q 4 . 

MERES: Mentioned in his Palladis Tamia, 1 598. 

SOURCES: The Bond theme came from // Pecorone (The Simpleton), by 
-JSer GioVanni Fiorentino; the Casket theme from the 66th 
story of Richard Robinson's version of the Gesta Romanorum. 
Shakespeare may have worked from an earlier play, The Jew, 
which has been lost, and which combined the two themes. 
There are some parallels to Marlowe's Jew of Malta. The 
Jew, Roderigo Lopez, was executed in 1594 for the attempted 
poisoning of Elizabeth and Don Antonio of Portugal. 

In 1701 George Granville adapted the Merchant of Venice in his Jew of 
Venice which included a masque, Shy lock being acted by the comedian 
Dogget. Macklin and Garrick restored much of Shakespeare and treated 
Shylock more seriously. 

NICHOLAS ROWE. To these I might add, that incomparable Character of 
Shylock the Jew 9 in the Merchant of Venice; but tho* we 
have seen that Play Receiv'd and Acted as a Comedy, and the Part of the 
Jew perform'd by an Excellent Comedian, yet I cannot but think it was 
design' d Tragically by the Author. There appears in it such a deadly Spirit 
of Revenge, such a savage Fierceness and Fellness, and such a bloody designa- 
tion of Cruelty and Mischief, as cannot agree either with the Stile or Char- 
acters of Comedy. The Play it self, take it all together, seems to me to be 

1 See p. 202* 


one of the most finishM of any of Shakespear's. The Tale indeed, in that 
Part relating to the Caskets, and the extravagant and unusual kind of Bond 
given by Antonio, is a little too much remov'd from the Rules of Probability: 
But taking the Fact for granted, we must allow it to be very beautifully 
written. There is something in the Friendship of Antonio to Bassanio very 
Great, Generous and Tender. The whole fourth Act, supposing, as I said, 
the Fact to be probable, is extremely Fine. But there are two Passages that 
deserve a particular Notice. The first is, what Portia says in praise of Mercy, 
and the other on the Power of Musick. 

Preface to Shakespeare, 1709. 

JOHNSON. Of The Merchant of Venice the style is even and easy, with few 
peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of construction. The comick 
part raises laughter, and the serious fixes expectation. The probability of 
either one or the other story cannot be maintained. The union of the two 
actions in one event is, in this drama, eminently happy. 

HAZLITT. This is a play that in spite of the change of manners and prejudices 
still holds undisputed possession of the stage. Shakespear's 
malignant has outlived Mr. Cumberland's benevolent Jew. In proportion 
as Shylock has ceased to be a popular bugbear, 'baited with the rabble's curse', 
he becomes a half-favourite with the philosophical part of the audience, who 
are disposed to think that Jewish revenge is at least as good as Christian 
injuries. Shylock is a good hater\ 'a man no less sinned against than sinning'. 
If he carries his revenge too far, yet he has strong grounds for 'the lodged 
hate he bears Anthonio', which he explains with equal force of eloquence 
and reason. . . . 

Portia is not a very great favourite with us; neither are we in love with her 
maid, Nerissa. Portia has a certain degree of affectation and pedantry about 
her, which is very unusual in Shakespeare's women, but which perhaps was 
a proper qualification for the office of a 'civil doctor', which she undertakes 
and executes so successfully. The speech about Mercy is very well; but there 
are a thousand finer ones in Shakespear. We do not admire the scene of the 
caskets: and object entirely to the Black Prince, Morocchius. We should 
like Jessica better if she had not deceived and robbed her father, and Lorenzo, 
if he had not married a Jewess, though he thinks he has a right to wrong a 
Jew. . . . 

When we first went to see Mr. Kean in Shylock, we expected to see, what 
we had been used to see, a decrepit old man, bent with age and ugly with 
mental deformity, grinning with deadly malice, with the venom of his heart 
congealed in the expression of his countenance, sullen, morose, gloomy, 
inflexible, brooding over one idea, that of his hatred, and fixed on one un- 
alterable purpose, that of his revenge. We were disappointed, because we 
had taken our idea from other actors, not from the play. There is no proof 
there that Shylock is old, but a single line, 'Anthonio and old Shylock, both 
forth/ which does not imply that he i infirm with age and the 


circumstance that he has a daughter marriageable, which does not imply that 
he is old at all. It would be too much to say that his body should be made 
crooked and deformed to answer to his mind, which is bowed down and 
warped with prejudices and passionThat he has but one idea, is not true; 
he has more ideas than any other person in the piece; and if he is intense and 
inveterate in the pursuit of his purpose, he shews the utmost elasticity, vigour, 
and presence of mind, in the means of attaining it. But so rooted was our 
habitual impression of the part from seeing it caricatured in the representa- 
tion, that it was only from a careful perusal of the play itself that we saw our 
error.jThe stage is not in general the best place to study our author's charac- 
ters in. It is too often filled with traditional commonplace conceptions of 
the part, handed down from sire to son, and suited to the taste of the great 
vulgar and the small. "Tis an unweeded garden: things rank and gross do 
merely gender in it!' If a man of genius comes once in an age to clear away 
the rubbish, to make it fruitful and wholesome, they cry, *'Tis a bad school: 
it may be* like nature, it may be like Shakespear, but it is not like us.' Ad- 
mirable critics! 

HEINE. When I saw a performance of this play at Drury Lane, a beautiful 
pale-faced English woman stood behind me in the box and wept 
profusely at the end of the fourth act, and called out repeatedly: 'The poor 
man is wronged.' Her face was of the noblest Greek cast, and her eyes were 
big and dark. I have never been able to forget those big dark eyes weeping 
for Shy lock:* 

But thinking of those tears I must count The Merchant of Venice among 
the tragedies, although the framework of the play is ornamented with the 
gayest masks, satires and love episodes, and the author's real intention was to 
write a comedy. Perhaps Shakespeare had in mind to create, for the enter- 
tainment of the masses, a trained werewolf, a loathsome fabulous monster 
thirsting for blood, and thereby losing his daughter and his ducats, and 
becoming a laughing stock. But the genius of the poet, the universal spirit 
which inspires him is always above his individual will, and so it happened that 
he expressed in Shylock, in spite of all his glaring grotesqueness, the vindica- 
tion of an ill-fortuned sect, whom Providence for mysterious reasons has 
made the butt of the hatred of high and low, and who have not always shown 
loving kindness in return. 

But what am I saying? The genius of Shakespeare rises above the petty 
jealousies of two religious factions, and his drama shows us really neither 
Jew nor Christian, but oppressor and oppressed, and the savage rejoicing of 
the latter when he can pay back with interest the suffered injuries to his 
callous tormentor. There is not the slightest trace of religious differences in 
this play: in Shylock Shakespeare merely represents a man whom Nature 
compels to hate his enemy, and in Antonio and his friends he portrays by no 
means the disciples of that divine teaching which tells us to love our enemies. 
... In fact, Shakespeare would have written a satire on Christianity if he 
intended it to be represented by those characters who are hostile to Shylock, 


and yet are hardly worthy of unlacing his shoes. The bankrupt Antonio is a 
weakling without energy, without strong hates and also without strong likes, 
a dull worm's-heart, whose flesh is really not fit for anything but to bait fish 
withal. Besides he never returns the borrowed three thousand ducats to the 
duped Jew. Nor does Bassanio refund his money, and he is a true fortune- 
hunter, as one English critic calls him; he borrows money to buy fine clothes 
and entice a wife with a fat dowry. . . . 

As for Lorenzo, he is the accomplice of one of the most infamous burglaries, 
and according to Prussian criminal law he would be pilloried and sentenced 
to fifteen years hard labour; although he is not only the receiver of stolen 
ducats and jewels, but also receptive to beauty, to moonlit landscapes and 
music. As for the other Venetians who appear as Antonio's companions, they 
do not seem to abhor money either, and when their own friend is in distress 
they have nothing but words, coined air, for him. . . . However much we 
must hate Shylock, we cannot blame even him if he despises those people a 

Shakespeare's Made hen und Fr auen , 1839. 

LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH. The Merchant of Venice is not for many lovers of 
Shakespeare one of their favourite plays. Its 

theatricality and stage-effectiveness puts a cheat upon them which they after- 
wards resent. But the other day, when I happened to look into it 'The 
moon shines bright* these first words of the last Act put a kind of magic 
on me: 

In such a night as this, 

When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees 
And they did make no noise, 

In such a night 

Stood Dido with a willow in her hand 
Upon the wild sea banks, and waft her love 
To come again to Carthage, 

when Lorenzo and Jessica were out-nighting each other in such a night as 
this, what could I do but revel in the moonlight and enchanted echoes of this 

Sit, Jessica: look, how the floor of heaven 

Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold: 

There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st 

But in his motion like an angel sings, 

Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubins; 

Such harmony is in immortal souls; 

But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay 

Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it. 

Poetry was given to man, Goethe said, to make him satisfied with himself 
and with his lot. Certainly for me poetry, either in verse or prose, exquisitely 
performs this function. I may be old and cross and ill, a wasted life may lie 
behind me, and the grave yawn close in front. I may have lost my faith, my 


illusion, my teeth, my reputation and umbrella. What does it matter? It 
doesn't matter in the least! Reading Lorenzo's words, 

Come, ho! and wake Diana with a hymnl 

off I go into the enchanted forest, into the Age of Gold. Life ceases to be 
brief, sad, enigmatic; I am perfectly satisfied with it. What more is there 
indeed to ask for? I taste a joy beyond the reach of fate; le bonheur, F impossible 
bonheur, is mine. I am (to express myself in soberer terms) simply kidnapped 
into heaven. I sit with the Gods and quaff their nectar; quaff indeed a nectar 
more generous than their own, since I, alone of the immortals, taste the aroma 
of this aromatic floating, orchard plot of earth, which, could they but sip its 
fragrance, how gladly would the Gods descend from their golden chairs, take 
upon themselves the burden of earthly sin, and provoke another Flood! Even 
that 'fading mansion', my aching, coughing body, becomes a vehicle and in- 
strument of music, and like a battered old violin, shivers and vibrates with 
tunable delight. 'Therefore the poet', as Lorenzo went on to tell Jessica, 

'Did feign that Orpheus drew trees, stones, and flood; 
Since naught so stockish, hard, and full of rage, 
But music for the time doth change his nature/ 

If ever again I am so stockish or full of rage as to deny the genius of Shake- 
speare, the music of this scene will, in the magical five minutes it takes to 
read it through, charm me back from my backsliding. 

On Reading Shakespeare. 


WRITTEN: 1597. 

PERFORMED: 1 597? 

1600 March 8th. The Lord Chamberlain entertained an Am- 
bassador with the play Sir John Old CastelL 
1613. Both Sir John Falstaffe and The Hotspur were acted at 
'The Magnificent Marriage of Frederick Count Palatine and 
the Lady Elizabeth'. 

1625. The First Part of Sir John Fa!sta/rt Whitehall. 
1 63 8 . 'At the Cocpit the 29th of May the princes berthnyght 
ould Castel.' 

S.R.: ' 1598 Feb. 25th. by Andrew Wise; transferred to Matthew 

Law in 1603. 


PUBLISHED: 1 598 Qi. 'The History of Henrie the Fourth; With the battell 
at Shrewsburie, betweene the King and Lord Henry Percy, 
surnamed Henrie Hotspur of the North. With the humorous 
conceits of Sir lohn Falstalffe.' Qi is the authoritative text, 
later Qq being set up from their immediate predecessors. 
1599 Q2. 'Newly corrected by W. Shake-speare.' 
i64 83; 1608 4; 1613 Q5; 1622 Q6; 1632 Qy; 1639 Q8, 
1623 Fi. Set up from Q$. 


WRITTEN: 1598. 

PERFORMED: 'Sundrie times publikely acted* before Q, 1600. 
1619. At Court? 

S.R.: 1600 Aug. 23rd. by Andrew Wise and William Aspley. 

PUBLISHED: 1600 Q. 'The Second Part of Henrie the fourth, continuing 
to his death, and coronation of Henrie the fift. With the 
humours of sir lohn FalstafFe, and swaggering Pistoll. As it 
hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable, 
the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William 
Shakespeare.' Probably set up from a MS used as a prompt- 

1623 Fi. Contains 168 lines omitted from Q, but leaves out 
40 lines of Q. Probably set up from a theatrical MS, possibly 
that used for Q which had been modified. 

MERES: 1598 Mentions Henry the 4 in his Palladis Tamia. 

SOURCES: Holinshed's Chronicle for the historical theme. The Famous 
Victories of Hen